Specific treatment for stroke will be determined by your physician based on:
- your age, overall health and medical history
- severity of the stroke
- location of the stroke
- cause of the stroke
- your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
- type of stroke
- your opinion or preference
Although there is no cure for stroke, advanced medical and surgical treatments are now available, giving many stroke victims hope for optimal recovery.
Emergency Treatments for Stroke
Treatment is most effective when started immediately. Emergency treatment following a stroke may include the following:
- medications used to the dissolve blood clot(s) that cause an ischemic stroke – Medications that dissolve clots are called thrombolytics or fibrinolytics and are commonly known as "clot busters." These drugs have the ability to help reduce the damage to brain cells caused by the stroke. In order to be most effective, these agents must be given within several hours of a stroke's onset.
- medications and therapy to reduce or control brain swelling – Corticosteroids and special types of intravenous (IV) fluids are often used to help reduce or control brain swelling, especially after a hemorrhagic stroke (a stroke caused by bleeding into the brain).
- medications that help protect the brain from damage and ischemia (lack of oxygen) – Medications of this type are called neuroprotective agents, with some still under investigation in clinical trials.
- life support measures including such treatments as ventilators (machines to assist with breathing), IV fluids, adequate nutrition, blood pressure control, and prevention of complications
Other Medications Used to Treat or Prevent a Stroke
Other medications that may help with recovery following a stroke, or may help to prevent a stroke from occurring, include the following:
- medications to help prevent more blood clots from forming – Medications that help to prevent additional blood clots from forming are called anticoagulants, as they prevent the coagulation of the blood. Medications of this type include, for example, heparin and warfarin (Coumadin®).
- medications that reduce the chance of blood clots by preventing platelets (a type of blood cell) from sticking together – Examples of this type of medication include aspirin, clopidogrel (Plavix®), dipyridamole (Aggrenox®), or ticlopidine (Ticlid®).
- medications to treat existing medical conditions such as diabetes, heart, or blood pressure problems
Types of Surgery to Treat or Prevent a Stroke
Several types of surgery may be performed to help treat a stroke, or help to prevent a stroke from occurring, including the following:
- carotid endarterectomy – Carotid endarterectomy is a procedure used to remove plaque and clots from the carotid arteries, located in the neck. These arteries supply the brain with blood from the heart. Endarterectomy may help prevent a stroke from occurring.
- craniotomy – A craniotomy is a type of surgery in the brain itself to remove blood clots or repair bleeding in the brain.
- surgery to repair aneurysms and arteriovenous malformations (AVMs) – An aneurysm is a weakened, ballooned area on an artery wall that has a risk for rupturing and bleeding into the brain. An AVM is a congenital (present at birth) or acquired disorder that consists of a disorderly, tangled web of arteries and veins. An AVM also has a risk for rupturing and bleeding into the brain. Surgery may be helpful, in this case, to help prevent a stroke from occurring.
Constraint-Induced Therapy (CIT) for Arm and Hand Paralysis After Stroke
Many individuals who have a stroke are left with paralysis of the upper extremities. CIT is a treatment that encourages the use of the stroke-affected limb by constraining the non-affected limb in a mitt, sling, splint or glove. Intense exercises are done using the stroke-affected arm or hand.
- CIT restraints are worn for up to 90 percent of the waking hours.
- Restraints can be removed for activities such as bathing.
- Small steps are used to break down complex tasks such as making a phone call.
- Verbal and written feedback is used to help motivate and inform persons undergoing CIT.