Stroke: Treatment

Stroke can happen to anyone at any age. If you've had a stroke, learn all you can about your condition and your treatment options. And if you're at risk for stroke, take steps now to improve your health. If you think you or a loved one may be experiencing a stroke, get medical attention immediately. A stroke s a serious medical emergency. If you get to a stroke center quickly (within less than an hour) the doctors may be able to interrupt the stroke, save brain tissue and limit the damage!

Treatment options include:

Lifestyle. You can lower your risk for stroke—or a repeat stroke—by adopting healthier lifestyle habits. Exercise and eat a balanced diet that's appropriate for your caloric needs; you may shed unwanted pounds, lower your blood pressure and blood sugar, and improve your cholesterol levels. If you smoke, quit. If you drink alcohol excessively or "binge drink," stop. Get regular medical checkups so you can address risk factors like high blood pressure promptly—before your health deteriorates.

Medication. Medicines also can help. Drugs can lower your blood pressure and cholesterol to cut your risk of atherosclerosis (plaque buildup) and reduce high blood sugar (which can damage blood vessels). Antiplatelet drugs (including aspirin) help thin your blood. Anticoagulants prevent clots from forming. Within 3 hours of a stroke, doctors may use thrombolytic drugs, such as tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), which can bust a clot and restore blood flow in the brain. After a hemorrhagic stroke, your doctor may prescribe a drug to prevent blood vessel constriction, which can lead to stroke.

Surgery. To reduce your risk for stroke, your doctor may recommend an endarterectomy, in which plaque is stripped from narrowed carotid arteries (in the neck). Alternatively, doctors may recommend placement of a stent inside a carotid artery to hold it open, allowing blood flow to the brain. Doctors can remove malformed blood vessels surgically or treat them by using radiation or embolization, in which artificial clots are injected into the blood vessel to block it off from its parent vessel. Surgeons also can insert a clip to cut off an aneurysm (a dangerous bulge in a blood vessel's wall) or thread a coil into it to stimulate clotting and strengthen the blood vessel wall.

Rehabilitation. Your post-stroke "rehab" may consist of a number of therapies, including physical therapy to work on movement, occupational therapy to assist with activities of daily living, speech therapy to restore communication skills, and talk therapy to help you cope with emotional issues.

Remember that doctor appointments are a chance to speak with your doctor about your health and your treatment plan. If your doctor makes lifestyle suggestions or prescribes medications, be sure to follow his or her instructions carefully.