Recovery from Stroke – How to Live with It and What to Expect in the Coming Weeks/Months

People suffer from stroke every day, and it often takes the lives of many. However, those who survive are often left wondering how to cope with it and what to expect afterward.

It’s not easy to learn that you had such a major health event, but it’s even scarier to think of recovery from stroke. Is it possible? What will it be like? Can you recover fully? These questions aren’t easy to answer because each stroke survivor is different. However, it can help to learn from others and their experiences.

Today, you will learn about recovery from stroke and hear stories from others who have been in your shoes. Though it focuses on what healthcare providers say, the real people are the ones who drive it home. These survivors have been living with it, making changes, and understanding their new needs. You can, too!

Signs of Stroke in Men and Women

Before focusing on recovery from stroke, it’s very wise to learn the signs of stroke in men and women. Typically, they’re the same for both sexes and include:

• Weakness or numbness on one side, such as in the leg, arm, or face

• Face drooping

• Difficulty speaking or difficulty understanding speech

• Confusion

• Vision changes, such as being unable to see in one or both eyes

• Severe headaches without a known cause

• Dizziness, trouble walking, lack of coordination, and loss of balance that appear suddenly

When considering the signs of stroke in women and men, many people think of the word “FAST.” It’s an acronym that can help you spot the symptoms in a loved one and act quickly, such as what happened to now 83-year-old Robert Nolan.

He was at his birthday celebration, having a barbecue with his wife when he began choking. Then, he started drooling. His wife, Linda, realized that he was trying to use his fork and couldn’t. As he tried saying he wished to go home, Linda realized he was having a stroke and called the hospital, which was across the street from where they were.

The quick thinking of his wife was probably what saved him. Plus, she warned the appropriate authorities soon enough that they were prepared for an operation.

Robert needed an operation to remove a blood clot from his brain. It only took 20 minutes, and the moment it was complete, he was thanking the doctors, saying his name, and using his right arm. This man’s story has helped countless others understand that FAST is an acronym that saves lives.

F for Face Drooping – People often experience a weakness or numbness on one side of their face.

A for Arm Weakness – The person having a stroke may not be able to raise their arms over their head, keeping them there. This can happen in one or both arms.

S for Speech Difficulty – The person might have trouble speaking, or the words they produce make no sense.

T for Time – If you notice any of the first three symptoms, get medical assistance immediately because time is crucial.

As you can see, Linda’s quick thinking saved her husband, Robert. Though he didn’t necessarily experience face drooping, his face was numb enough that he couldn’t stop drooling. Likewise, he wasn’t able to use his utensils and couldn’t speak properly.

Types of Stroke

Again, before you learn how to recover from a stroke, it’s important to understand the types out there. A stroke is often called a brain attack because it happens when the blood supply is blocked to the brain or when blood vessels within the brain burst. Overall, the brain is damaged and could die.

Typically, a stroke can lead to long-term disability and lasting brain damage for survivors. That’s why time is crucial! People must understand the signs of stroke in women and men to get help quickly.

The brain is an organ that stores our memories, influences our movements, and is the source of language, emotions, and thoughts. It also controls various bodily functions, such as digestion and breathing.

Your brain needs oxygen to work properly. The arteries deliver the oxygen through the blood to the brain. If something happens that blocks the blood flow, brain cells will begin dying in minutes, which leads to the stroke.

Here are the most common types of stroke:

Hemorrhagic stroke

Ischemic stroke

Transient ischemic attack (TIA)

Hemorrhagic Stroke

Hemorrhagic strokes happen when one of the brain’s arteries ruptures (breaks open) or leaks blood. This leads to more pressure on the cells within and causes damage.

Aneurysms and high blood pressure are two examples of conditions leading to a hemorrhagic stroke. An aneurysm is a balloon-style bulge in the artery that stretches or bursts.

Sometimes, people like Tara find themselves thinking they need to see an eye doctor because of double vision. She had been playing a video game at 34 years old when it happened, and she thought she needed to schedule another eye test.

Since she has a genetic disease, she gets MRIs each year, so she had one booked within a few days. However, her left arm was also numb. Though the MRI did show a slight bleed in the brainstem, her neurologist claimed it would heal within a few weeks.

A few days before she turned 35 years old, she was due for a trip to Disneyland Paris. However, on the day of the trip, she was very nauseous and dizzy, with her double vision returning. Tara stayed in the hotel for a few days and then went back to her neurologist for more tests. She was admitted to the hospital and remembers nothing else until a few months later.

Tara lost her ability to swallow, so the doctors at the hospital put in nasogastric and tracheal tubes. She also had surgery for a cavernoma, which led to a brainstem bleed, causing her hemorrhagic stroke.

Ischemic Stroke

Most of the strokes people have are ischemic. This happens when particles or blood clots block the brain’s blood vessels, which is what happened to Robert.

Sometimes, blockages occur because plaque (fatty deposits) build up in the blood vessels.

Many times, people like Abby find themselves having an ischemic stroke after being unwell. After going to the doctor, she and her GP thought it was a bad chest infection. She was given antibiotics, but they didn’t help.

One Saturday morning, she felt horrible, with weak limbs, a headache, and a general feeling of sickness. She threw up and couldn’t get off the floor, even though she tried very hard.

After a while, Abby did get up and felt reasonably fine. Therefore, she went on with her plans to babysit her brother’s child. He mentioned that she looked poorly, but she said she was tired and had no energy. At this point, her brother realized something was wrong and called 9-1-1.

The responders asked to talk to Abby, but she said she was fine. Something in her demeanor made them come anyway. She finally knew something was wrong when she had to use the restroom and couldn’t get up. Luckily, the doctors performed tests to find a blood clot on her brain.

Transient Ischemic Attack (Mini-Stroke)

TIAs are often called warning strokes because they let the person know they’re in trouble and at higher risk for a full ischemic stroke. They are medical emergencies like all other major strokes and require emergency care. It’s still important to call for an ambulance if you see the signs of stroke in men or women or if you feel them yourself.

Average people like you cannot know if the symptoms of a stroke are because of a TIA or a major stroke. Therefore, it’s best to call 9-1-1 and let a trained professional perform the right tests.

Typically, a mini-stroke doesn’t last as long as a major one. The symptoms will go away within a few minutes or hours. However, it’s impossible to wait and be sure because if it’s a traditional ischemic stroke, they would already have suffered the full extent and may not live.

Strokes often happen to older people, but Burag learned the hard way at 26 years old that a TIA (mini-stroke) doesn’t care about your age. He had his transient ischemic attack in 2018. Recently, he’d gone through a rough patch and was smoking and eating unhealthily. Thinking he was young enough to offset it all, he believed he could get back to healthy eating later.

Burag experienced a severe headache while he was relaxing and playing the harmonica. Then, he saw a black dot in front of his eye, which grew gradually until he had almost lost all sight.

He continued his normal routine, heading to a pub to see a friend. She claimed that he was strange, and he felt very tired and confused. His friend took him home, and he slept, hoping things would be better the next day.

However, the next morning, he still had a headache, though his sight was partially back. Overall, he experienced balance problems and confusion. He talked to his friend, and she explained what had happened at the pub.

Trying to shake it off, he decided to do his normal workout routine, stopping to check his messages. Burag couldn’t read them, though he could see the words. His brain couldn’t process what his eyes were seeing. Finally, he knew something was very wrong!

Instead of phoning 9-1-1, Burag went back to his home. He slept for a few days and had only minor problems two days after his mini-stroke. A couple of weeks after his event, he talked to a friend who had medical training. They mentioned it sounded like a stroke, which scared him badly.

Though he never got medical treatment, he knew how badly it could have been. Likewise, he knows that he’s at a higher risk for an ischemic stroke in the future and is paying close attention to his health.

Recovery from Stroke – Tips and Tricks from Doctors and Real People

Understanding the signs of stroke in women and men is crucial. Likewise, you should know about the different types. However, after having one, the recovery process can seem daunting. You’re a survivor, and you’ve gone so far in your health journey to be where you’re at now. Learning how to recover is the next part!

Typically, recovery from stroke should focus on your lifestyle and physical health. These will impact what you do and need to get better.

The first thing to understand is the technical side of recovery from stroke. You must start regaining your independence and overcoming your secondary effects to live as normal a life as possible.

1. Focus on How the Brain Heals

Many people don’t know that the brain can heal itself after an injury, even a severe one like a stroke. Neuroplasticity is the phenomenon, and it’s the mechanism the brain uses to create new pathways and rewire itself.

Neuroplasticity is the most important concept for stroke recovery. You’ll need to practice certain skills regularly to help your brain improve.

Overall, neuroplasticity uses experience to work. When you practice something over and over and gain experience with it, your brain will try to get better at it.

Think back to when you were a child. You probably practiced riding a bike with training wheels to get the sense of balance you’d need to remove them later. As you continued practicing and learning, your brain was rewiring itself to build and strengthen the neural pathways that controlled pedaling, steering, balance, and other things.

Consistent rehabilitation exercises are crucial for stroke recovery. You must relearn movement to improve when moving your body. For example, if you practice leg exercises frequently, you’ll see more leg mobility as a result.

It’s also important to be patient with yourself. Some survivors, such as Abby (ischemic stroke), only have a weird eyebrow. She does have a weaker left side and chronic fatigue. Likewise, her legs will feel weak, and she’ll experience tremors when she’s tired.

2. Focus on Nutrition and Exercise

Though your brain is recovering from the stroke, you also have to think about your body. It is now tired more often, may not move as well, and there could be other issues. Overall, proper nutrition is crucial.

Some of the best things you can eat for stroke recovery include whole foods (whole grains, nuts, and vegetables). It’s also wise to limit your sugar intake and saturated fats because these foods are known to restrict behavioral and neuronal plasticity.

Vitamins are also crucial for recovery from stroke. Therefore, if you don’t get them through your diet, it’s wise to speak with your doctor about supplementation.

Exercise is also important. Keith ended up having a stroke at 59. Though he had high blood pressure, he thought it was under control. However, his son noticed him slurring his words and called an ambulance. After his stroke, he wanted to get back to normal as soon as possible.

He had been a runner and enjoyed playing various sports. However, he soon learned that he had to take it slow after his stroke. Running and walking took a toll on his body like never before. In fact, he couldn’t do everything he used to. Still, he persevered, kept exercising and eating right, and finally entered a championship after training hard.

Keith says it’s possible to fully recover after a stroke, but it will take hard work and diligence. Though he didn’t smoke or drink much and wasn’t overweight, he still had a mini-stroke. Likewise, he often experiences headaches and doesn’t know what caused his TIA.

3. Stay Positive

Many stroke survivors claim that they reach a stroke recovery plateau, which often happens after about three months. At this time, the recovery process slows down, though it doesn’t stop if you’re still participating in your rehabilitation work.

In some cases, it can take up to five years of seeing no more results before the plateau breaks. Most studies indicate this is because rehabilitation isn’t consistent at home.

Overall, the brain requires consistent stimulation to help rewire itself. Phil would tell you to never give up. He’s still improving even two years after his stroke, but it takes time.

However, he would also say to grieve after having a stroke. He used to believe that was something to do after a loved one passed away. Finally, he realized that it’s about acknowledging the changes and coming to terms with them. You may never be able to run a marathon like Keith or be able to lift weights, but you can still do many things. Focus on them!

One of the things Phil missed most was driving. After two years, he can drive again, though he needs an adapted car to do it. Likewise, he’s planning on returning to work and has written a book about his experience with stroke.

4. Avoid the “Learned Nonuse” Issue

During recovery from stroke, learned nonuse becomes a big thing. You’ve probably heard the term “use it or lose it,” which means if you don’t use the affected limbs, your brain will forget how.

Overall, the brain wants to be efficient. If you stop using an affected leg or arm, it thinks movement with those limbs isn’t as important. Therefore, it de-prioritizes that side. If this continues, it will cause learned nonuse.

All movement is important for recovery. If you’re struggling with paralysis after your stroke, passive movement might be something to consider. This means assisting the limbs with something, such as a walking stick. It will stimulate your brain and prevent the condition of learned nonuse.

5. Think Differently

If you’re a new stroke survivor, recovery can be tough. However, you should educate yourself on the physical effects that will happen, and spasticity is one of them.

Spasticity involves tight and stiff muscles that happen from brain miscommunications. When the brain is impacted by a stroke or similar injury, it might not send the right signals to the muscles. Therefore, they could tighten up because they’re overactive, and the brain can’t tell them to relax.

The problem isn’t usually with the muscles; instead, it starts in the brain. Knowing this can help you cope. Plus, you can use neuroplasticity to restore muscle mobility and reduce spasticity.

Nerys was 46 when she had her ischemic stroke. She didn’t even realize anything was wrong; she simply thought it was a stroke and went to the hospital. Though she knows she’s got a few issues, she never let it stop her.

Once, she crushed the egg in her hand instead of cracking it and putting it in a pan to fry. She’s aware that it’s a sequencing issue in her brain. Overall, things didn’t knit back together completely. Likewise, she’ll often get distracted easily and put items in the wrong places.

6. Use Various Rehabilitation Methods

Many people don’t realize that stroke rehabilitation comes in many forms and techniques, including electrical stimulation, mirror therapy, and gait training. Every stroke is different, so each survivor will need to find the right options for them. What works for you might not be appropriate for another.

Experimenting with many techniques can be beneficial. Your therapist and doctor will help you decide what’s right for you. Continue trying new things until you find something that works, doing it consistently at home and with a therapist.

Even the act of writing, drawing, or gardening can be used as rehabilitation. If it’s something you enjoyed doing before the stroke, you should continue on with it as much as possible.

For example, Jackie used to be an avid gardener. After her stroke, she knew she couldn’t keep up with the garden, and it turned wild. However, a few weeks later, she decided to ask her partner to take her to a pond shop to buy some water lilies. Believing it might slow down the algae growth in the pond, she set out, even though she worried about a headache.

Jackie bought that lily and dropped it in the pond, surviving the trip. In fact, it reminded her of shopping with her mother. Though she felt the bends in the road (even though it was straight), she made it through. Then, she allowed herself time to rest so that her brain could recover.

7. Sleep When Needed

Doctors often recommend plenty of sleep for stroke survivors. Jill Bolte Taylor is a brain scientist and also a stroke survivor herself. She knows just how important sleep is.

The brain is trying to recover, which means it needs sleep. One particular reason is that sleeping will help improve your movement recovery afterward. Most people worry about using their hands or legs again, so mobility is crucial. Rest and rehabilitative exercises are essential. Don’t be afraid to take a nap or say you’re tired; take the steps you need to fully recover!

8. Focus on Stroke Prevention

Stroke survivors are definitely at a higher risk of having another stroke. Therefore, stroke prevention is crucial. The first step is to learn your risk factors, take prescribed medication correctly, stay active, and eat a healthy diet.

Alastair has had multiple strokes throughout his life. As a young child, he was diagnosed with Leukemia. Because of all the radiation and chemotherapy treatment, his brain’s blood vessels were damaged.

His first stroke happened at school when he was 11 years old. The group was listening to music, and he was tapping his foot along with the tune. However, he couldn’t stop, even once the music shut off. Though he felt something was wrong, he didn’t tell anyone.

During lunchtime, he dropped his cutlery repeatedly. His mother knew something was wrong and took him to the hospital. However, the doctors believed his Leukemia had moved to the brain and gave him more radiotherapy. Luckily, his mom told the doctors that it seemed like Alastair was an old man who had had a stroke. That’s what it was.

At 26, Alastair had another stroke. He became violently ill and had a sore head one evening. Though it cleared up for a while, it came back with a vengeance on his bus ride home. Normal sounds were distant, and he felt like he was going down a black hole. He finally arrived home, though it took much longer than it should have.

A few days later, his sister came over for a visit. She noticed his tongue wasn’t straight, so he called for an ambulance and went to the hospital. Luckily, he recovered well.

Though he knew he was at a higher risk of stroke, he still thought of himself as relatively healthy. However, at 32 years old, he had yet another stroke. He said that one morning, his arm felt “fizzy,” which most people call pins and needles. Still, it was stronger than that and varied in intensity. Immediately, he realized something was wrong and went to the hospital.

This time, Alastair knew he was having a stroke. However, the nurses weren’t in a big rush. He got angry with the triage nurse, but she claimed that his symptoms didn’t sound like one. The problem was that he couldn’t speak to describe the symptoms!

Two weeks later, he was in a rehabilitation program. He learned that he’d had another stroke after the one two weeks before. He couldn’t talk or walk properly, and his left hand wouldn’t work.

Though Alastair has had many TIAs in the past, he’s now on blood thinners to prevent more strokes from happening. However, he still feels movement in his head and the pins/needles. Sometimes, he wonders if a clot is moving around in his brain. Overall, he takes aspirin when it occurs, which his doctors told him to do, and this relieves his symptoms.

After a long road to recovery, Alastair can walk and talk. However, he says that his left leg gets tired more frequently. Likewise, he doesn’t have the energy he did before.

9. Consider Foot Drop

Foot drop often means that you have trouble lifting the toes and front part of your foot. It can lead to problems, which means you could be at a higher risk of falling if your foot drags on the ground.

Many stroke survivors deal with foot drop as they recover. Ankle foot orthotics could help you and will make walking easier. Your physical therapist will determine if AFOs are appropriate for you. However, you should be aware that it’s a compensatory strategy. Though you’ll be safer, you aren’t addressing the root cause.

Exercising the foot regularly will help you reduce foot drop and wean you off of using AFOs.

Emma is one stroke survivor who had to deal with foot drop. Likewise, the orthoptist made her a lower leg and foot support. She wore it to correct her Achilles tightness, but her right foot then moved to the side. Gradually, it was stretched back out.

Mandy also had to deal with a foot problem. Her left foot would be at the “ten-til” part of the hour on a clock, so she was shuffling more than walking. Though she tried to have her home fitted with a handrail, it wasn’t possible because her home wasn’t over 10 years old. Overall, she had to persevere with the stairs and walking.

Sometimes, she still doesn’t do it correctly, but she focuses on being as careful as possible while she shuffles/walks around. A walking stick has helped her, and she tries to avoid uneven ground when possible.

Recovery from Stroke Is Possible; It Just Takes Time

Recovering from a stroke is a time-consuming process, and you’ll have to be diligent. Sometimes, the doctors can tell you why it happened, so you can make changes to your lifestyle. Even if you don’t learn the reason, you should be thankful for making it through such a terrifying event.

Most survivors tell others to never give up. Others, like Burag, will say that you should keep a healthy body and mind and know that it could happen again.

Remember that you’re not alone. Nerys claims that no stroke is ever the same, but hearing stories from others will help you laugh and learn. You’re unique, and there is online help from others who have gone through the same things. Stay strong!

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