Can you live a normal life after a stroke?

A stroke is a serious medical condition that occurs when blood supply to parts of your brain is reduced or completely blocked. This prevents oxygen and other nutrients from getting to the brain cells, which can die within a few minutes.

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stroke
Migraine; image source: pexels.com

All strokes are considered to be a medical emergency and need immediate treatment. Full recovery is possible in case of a minor stroke but can be difficult if it is a major attack. One may be left with residual paralysis, speech defects, poor vision, inability to eat or swallow, control the bowel or bladder and walk.

Differences between ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes

Most strokes occur when the blood supply to the brain is reduced or completely blocked. This can occur because of a blood clot or infection from the heart. These are called ischemic strokes, where the brain is unable to get oxygen because of the blockage.

About 13% of strokes are hemorrhagic- meaning that a blood vessel ruptures in the brain and bleeds. The reason for the rupture may be a weakness in the wall of the artery or the development of an aneurysm (ballooning). These hemorrhagic strokes, in general, are more severe than ischemic strokes, and even if recovery occurs, there is usually always some type of residual paralysis. Overall, ischemic strokes tend to occur in people with advanced age, whereas hemorrhagic strokes can occur in both young and old people.

How patients may be affected after a stroke

The impairment in major systems of the body depends on where the stroke occurs. More severe strokes tend to affect larger parts of the brain, and patients typically have more complications compared to those who suffer from a minor stroke. In general, strokes can lead to the following problems:

  1. Impairment in movement: The individual may be paralyzed and may not be able to use their arm or legs. Some become wheelchair or bed-bound. With severe strokes, some individuals may not be able to perform daily living activities like eating, dressing, bathing, or even getting out of bed.
  2. Loss of bladder and bowel control: The individual may become incontinent and no longer be able to hold urine or, in some cases, may not be able to void. Constipation is also a common problem because the bowel wall motility is reduced
  3. Swallowing and eating may be difficult
  4. Speech impairment: Stokes can cause many types of speech deficits, including an inability to speak, comprehend, or formulate coherent sentences.
  5. Sensory loss and numbness: Some patients may be unable to feel any sensation, including pain, and consequently may injure their bodies further by prolonged exposure to heat.
  6. Cognitive problems: Patients may have trouble with thinking, reasoning, memory, judgment or expressing emotions.
  7. Emotional problems: Patients may experience feelings of frustration, anger, aggression, sadness, and hopelessness.

Rehabilitation and recovery after a stroke

In most cases, some type of rehabilitation is necessary for recovery after a stroke. The rehabilitation may include:

  • Physical and occupational therapy to help regain function, strength, and mobility of the extremities, muscles, and joints
  • Speech therapy
  • Using mobility devices (wheelchairs, walking canes, rolling walkers)
  • Home modifications (installing a wheelchair ramp and supportive devices like raised toilets, handrails, and grab bars)
  • Emotional support (from family and friends) as loss of physical capabilities and independence is often traumatic for stroke victims
  • Psychological help for depression or anxiety as many stroke victims fear having another stroke.

Rehabilitation therapy is often undertaken at specialized centers that deal with stroke patients. It is best to work with healthcare professionals who are qualified and have specific degrees and expertise in communication sciences and disorders. Rehabilitation therapy may last a few weeks or a few months, depending on the patient’s overall condition.

How long does recovery take

A stroke doesn’t necessarily mean you will be incapacitated for the rest of your life. Each person is different, and a lot depends on the type and severity of stroke. Some strokes are minor; for example, you may only develop transient loss of vision or weakness in your arm. In such cases, recovery is relatively rapid. But the key is to begin a rehabilitation program because it can help with recovery. Some people recover quickly and return to almost normal life; others take months or years to recover, and some never fully recover.

What is the life expectancy after having a stroke

Once someone has had a stroke, there is a chance of it recurring. Most people who develop a stroke have pre-existing risk factors like smoking, high blood pressure, uncontrolled diabetes, obesity, etc. All these risk factors can be controlled with medications and lifestyle changes, and the risk of a recurrent stroke can be lowered. Approximately 75% of patients survive after the first year of a stroke, while 50% survive after five years.

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