How is stroke treated?

How is stroke treated?

Treatment for stroke includes medication, rehabilitation and changes in lifestyle. Some patients may qualify for clinical trials of treatments and medications.

Your doctor may prescribe several types of medications to treat stroke and prevent it from happening again.

  • Tissue plasminogen activator is a "clot-buster." It can break up the clot, restoring blood flow and reducing the damage of an ischemic stroke. It must be given within the first three hours of a stroke.
  • Heparin is a "blood thinner."Heparin is sometimes used to reduce stroke damage or stroke risk in hospitalized patients.
  • Warfarin is an anticoagulant drug ("blood thinner") which is taken by mouth. Daily use of Warfarin can reduce the risk of stroke in certain patients. For example, doctors prescribe Warfarin for many patients with atrial fibrillation, which is a fast, irregular heartbeat. Many other drugs and some foods have adverse interactions with Warfarin, so be sure to tell your doctor if you are taking other drugs or supplements. Follow all of the doctor's directions while taking Warfarin.
  • Aspirin, Clopidogrel, Ticlopidene and Dipyridamole are anti-platelet drugs. Anti-platelet drugs keep your blood from clotting too fast. Daily use may reduce your risk of having a stroke or transient ischemic attack. Except for aspirin, they require a doctor's prescription. Aspirin should not be taken daily without first talking to your doctor. Aspirin can cause serious side effects.

In addition to these medications, many stroke patients also receive medications to treat conditions leading to stroke such as high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol.

"Rehabilitation" means to bring back a former ability, like walking or talking. Stroke can affect a patient's most basic skills: movement, memory, speech, etc. Often, a stroke patient will be sent to a clinic where a therapist will design and recommend exercises to restore these basic skills. At times, the therapist will visit the patient's home. There are three types of rehabilitation: physical, occupational and speech. Much of a patient's improvement after a stroke comes in the first week, but some might take as long as a year.

Changes in lifestyle
Treatment for stroke includes changes in lifestyle. Your doctor may recommend any or all of the following:

  • If you smoke, quit.
  • If you are overweight, lose weight.
  • If you have too much cholesterol and lipids in your blood, limit the amount of saturated fats and cholesterol you eat.
  • Increase the amount of exercise you get.
  • If you drink alcohol, decrease how much you drink.
  • If you abuse drugs, quit.

To learn more:

Medicines for Stroke
(Internet Stroke Center of Washington University)
This site comes from the Internet Stroke Center, a non-profit, educational service of Washington University in St. Louis Missouri. It lists the most commonly prescribed drugs for stroke treatment. Pictures of some of the pills are included. There are links to other sites with more information about these drugs.
Rehabilitation Therapy
(National Stroke Association)
Learn about the effects of stroke and how they can be overcome through treatment and therapy.

Clinical trials

Clinical trials allow scientists and doctors to test new ways to treat illnesses. It is also a way that people who feel old methods aren't enough can try something new and for less cost. The following links may help you decide if you want to be in a clinical trial.
Learn About Clinical Studies
(National Library of Medicine)
Explains clinical trials in a question and answer format. Presents lots of information that patients and their families will want to know if they are thinking about enrolling in a clinical trial. A list of questions to ask your doctor or the people doing the study is very helpful.
(National Institues of Health)
This site allows individuals to search for clinical studies sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and other Federal and non-Federal organizations. It contains over 5,000 clinical trials. For a basic understanding of clinical trials, look under Resource Information in the center of the page, then select Understanding Clinical Trials.
Selected NHLBI Clinical Trials Across the U.S.
(National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute)
Clinical trials sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health can be found at this site. You can search for trials by disease or condition, age group, and stage of trial. If you want to consider being in a clinical trial, this is a good site to visit with your doctor or health care professional to find out if trials are available.
Stroke Trials Directory
(Internet Stroke Center)
This site has a listing of clinical trials relating only to stroke. It is maintained by the Internet Stroke Center and is intended for professional use, but contains useful information for patients and their families. A directory of studies that are currently accepting volunteers is a time-saver.

next » Questions to ask your doctor about stroke.

Written by: Janice C. May, M.P.A.
Reviewed by: Jeffrey G. Schultze, M.D.
Last Modified: Monday November 28, 2016 11:02 AM