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Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the
Harvard Medical School

Treatment

It is important to be aware of stroke symptoms. Seek immediate emergency care if you experience stroke symptoms.

The doctor will first try to determine whether your stroke is caused by a clot or bleeding. Based on this information, he or she will begin the appropriate treatment.

Thrombotic and embolic strokes

The most effective treatment for strokes caused by a clot is a powerful clot-dissolving medication called tissue plasminogen activator (t-PA). T-PA can restore blood flow and oxygen to brain tissue affected by a stroke. But it must be given immediately—within three hours of when stroke symptoms begin. That's why it is so important to contact your doctor at the first sign of what might be a stroke. People who receive this medication have less long-term disability following a stroke.

In treating thrombotic stroke, clot-prevention medications, such as heparin, are used in later hours after a stroke. These medicines prevent existing blood clots from getting bigger. They also prevent new clots from forming.

After a stroke has stabilized, aspirin or another mild blood-thinning agent is usually prescribed daily to prevent another stroke.

Hemorrhagic strokes

T-PA is not helpful to treat hemorrhagic stroke. In fact, it can cause more bleeding.

Sometimes, the hemorrhaged blood may have to be removed through surgery to relieve pressure on the brain. Occasionally, testing reveals that an abnormality of a blood vessel has caused the hemorrhage. This may require treatment with surgery in order to prevent another stroke.

Follow-up care

A person who has experienced a significant stroke of any type usually is hospitalized for observation in case the symptoms worsen. A severe stroke can affect breathing. Some people may need a breathing machine to help them breathe.

People who have had a stroke may need help with self-care or feeding. Early intervention by an occupational therapist and physical therapist is helpful. These therapists can help a person work around a new disability and regain strength after brain injury.

Hospitalization is often followed by a period of residence at a rehabilitation center. There, additional therapy may be provided intensively. The goal of rehabilitation is to maximize recovery.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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