The prognosis after a stroke greatly depends on the type of stroke, area of the brain, age and health of the stroke patient, and how long it took before the stroke was diagnosed and treated. “Time is brain” is a common saying among neurologists and healthcare professionals because every second counts. A stroke blocks oxygen to the brain, and within four minutes without oxygen, brain cells begin to die. It is estimated that a million brain cells die every minute when starved of oxygen.
While this is an alarming number, a healthy adult brain has billions of cells. Their function is incredibly complex, but quick treatment can limit the damage and retain the brain’s ability to regenerate. Therefore, early detection and quick action are critical components of recovery from stroke.
How the brain recovers
The sooner doctors can stop the bleeding and repair the damage to the brain, the less damage is done and the sooner the brain can begin the process of recovery. For ischemic strokes, which are caused by blood clots, doctors will administer medication to dissolve the blood clots, reduce the risk of additional clots, and decrease blood pressure on the brain. For a hemorrhagic stroke, caused by burst blood vessels, doctors usually need to do surgery to stop the bleeding.
In the first hours or days after a stroke, once oxygen flow is restored, the brain begins to clean up dead cells and repair damaged cells and neurons. Through what we call neuroplasticity, the incredible brain is able to restructure itself, change connections, and even tell cells to do different jobs. The brain can also form new cells, through what we call neurogenesis. The world of neuroscience is only just beginning to tap into the knowledge of this amazing healing ability of the human brain.
What you can do
To help your brain recover as quickly as possible, you must be committed to rehabilitation. Good hospitals will have therapists come in as soon as a stroke patient is stable to begin simple therapy, such as moving the patient’s limbs, in order to keep the brain engaged.
Set your recovery goals high, but not too high so you don’t become discouraged. Be realistic, and keep moving the goalpost as you get closer. In this way, you will remain motivated to recover. Keep in mind that the most rapid progress occurs within the first few months of intensive therapy, and subsequently, recovery slows and you may even plateau for a while. Expect this, but understand that by continually pushing, you will eventually pass the plateau and slowly but steadily improve.
Milder strokes naturally are more likely to result in few if any residual effects. More serious strokes, especially if the person has multiple health issues, may require a great deal of effort to overcome the damage done. However, most people can see some recovery if they are willing to be persistent over the long run.
According to the National Health Association (NHA), 10% of stroke patients recover completely or almost completely, and 25% recover with minor impairments. Another 40% experience moderate to severe impairments, while 10% require long-term care.
Long-term therapy continued at home and in an outpatient setting can improve your recovery prognosis. One study followed 51 stroke patients who could not walk after 3 months post-stroke. At the end of two years, 74% of these patients could walk without assistance, and up to 79% scored above 70 on the Barthel Index, indicating minimal dependence on others for normal daily activities. This is good news.
We have one caveat for you, however. It is important that you take all steps to eliminate the factors that led to your stroke, if at all possible. Make changes to your diet and lifestyle to improve your cholesterol, blood pressure, weight, stress, level of physical activity, or whatever other factors contributed to your stroke. Take medications recommended by your doctor to help you improve your health. And consider a stroke monitor during the first few months or years to alert medical professionals of the onset of another stroke.
Unfortunately, 25% of all strokes are repeat strokes, which usually occur within the first few years after a stroke. Neuralert stroke detection wristbands are a powerful tool for doctors to monitor vulnerable patients and those with major risk factors for stroke. Talk to your doctor about adding a Neuralert stroke detection wristband to your overall medical health strategy.