Harvard Women's Health Watch

Recovering from a stroke

After a stroke, the brain regains some function on its own, but recovery requires early and ongoing rehabilitation.

Every year in the United States, 250,000 women survive a stroke — the sudden interruption of blood supply to part of the brain, which results in the death of brain cells. Rapid diagnosis and brain-sparing treatments — such as tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), an enzyme that dissolves blood clots, or other clot-clearing procedures — can help limit the damage and resulting disability. But the cells that do die can rob a woman of her ability to speak, move, feel, think, or even recognize friends and relatives. About two-thirds of stroke survivors must work to regain abilities — or learn to compensate for the ones they can't regain, by developing new strengths and strategies.

Many people think of rehabilitation as something that comes after medical treatment of the stroke, but to a large extent the two coincide. Aggressive rehabilitation — started as soon as possible in the hospital — can mean the difference between recovering skills essential to daily living and remaining severely impaired and dependent. Strategies used for decades are the mainstay of rehabilitation, but new approaches and technologies are also gaining ground. What's more, researchers are learning that improvement is still possible many months, even years, after a stroke.

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