Q: I recently had my first stroke. What should I know to prepare for life after a stroke?

A: For many people, a stroke is life-changing and unexpected. It can be difficult to process what happened. But continuously talking to your doctor will help you prepare for the road to recovery. Here are three questions you should ask.

What happened?

A stroke can happen to anyone at any age. Strokes commonly occur when blood flow to an area of the brain is cut off, causing brain cells to die from lack of blood and oxygen. Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke. It can result in life-altering changes, such as limited physical or cognitive abilities, as well as emotional and behavioral challenges.

Because of these challenges, some stroke survivors find it difficult or embarrassing to talk to their doctor about their recovery. However, developing an open relationship with your primary-care provider can help you fully understand and prepare for life after a stroke. When speaking to your doctor, you should feel comfortable saying such things as: “I don’t understand what you’re saying. Can you explain it in a different way?” or “I cannot afford my medication; what do I do?”

How did this happen?

Some risk factors that increase your chances of having a stroke are uncontrollable, such as race, age, gender, or genetics. But other common risk factors are within your control, including high blood pressure, tobacco use, high cholesterol, diabetes, physical inactivity, and alcohol use. These risk factors can be treated or controlled by adopting a healthy lifestyle or speaking to your health-care provider. A stroke also has many causes, and there is more than one type.

  • Ischemic stroke (blockage) is the most common and occurs when a blood vessel carrying blood to the brain is obstructed by a blood clot or mass.
  • Hemorrhagic stroke (bleeding) occurs when a weakened vessel ruptures and bleeds into the brain. The blood creates pressure and swelling that damages brain cells and tissue. The most common cause is uncontrolled high blood pressure.
  • Transient ischemic attack (TIA) mimics stroke-like symptoms and occurs when blood flow to part of the brain stops for a short period of time. TIA is a serious warning sign for future strokes.

What does my future look like?

This will depend on factors including recovery, support, and prevention.

Recovery. The first few weeks after a stroke are critical for recovery. If you are unable to perform activities of daily living, such as eating, bathing, or dressing due to the stroke, speak to your doctor and begin rehabilitation to relearn your basic routine. Stroke rehabilitation, such as speech, physical, or occupational therapy, may be needed to regain function and improve your quality of life.

Support. A reliable support network can be beneficial after a stroke to help ease fear or anxiety. Everyone’s support network looks different. Your network can include family, friends, support groups, or neighbors. Bring those in your support network along to motivate you during therapy or treatment. This will allow them to better understand the process and steps to your recovery.

Prevention. Stroke patients have a higher risk for another stroke. Recurrent strokes increase chances of death and disability; however, you can help avoid another stroke by treating and limiting your risk factors. Take action by choosing a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, staying physically active, and avoiding smoking. Review all your recommended medications with your doctor, including over-the-counter medications or supplements.

Talk to your doctor to identify your risk factors and work together to manage your health.

Genevieve Skalak, D.O., is a hospitalist at Nazareth Hospital.