Treatment for Stroke

Early treatment for stroke can help minimize damage to brain tissue and improve the outcome (prognosis). Treatment depends on whether the stroke is ischemic or hemorrhagic and on the underlying cause of the condition. Hemorrhagic stroke usually requires surgery. The long-term goals of treatment include rehabilitation and prevention of additional strokes.

Treatment for Ischemic Stroke

Initial treatment for ischemic stroke involves removing the blockage and restoring blood flow. Tissue plasminogen activator (t-PA) is a medication that can break up blood clots and restore blood flow when administered within 3 hours of the event. This medication carries a risk for increased intracranial hemorrhage and is not used for hemorrhagic stroke. Mannitol, a diuretic, may be administered intravenously (through an IV) to reduce intracranial pressure during an ischemic stroke.

Antihypertensives such as labetalol (Normodyne®) and enalapril (Vasotec®) may be used alone or in combination with diuretics to treat high blood pressure. Side effects are usually mild and include dizziness, fatigue, and headache.

Antiplatelet agents such as aspirin, clopidogrel bisulfate, and aspirin with dipyridamole (Aggrenox®) may be prescribed to reduce the risk for recurrent stroke. Aspirin may also improve the outcome of a stroke when administered within 48 hours. Side effects include stomach pain, heartburn, nausea, and gastrointestinal bleeding. Aggrenox is taken orally, twice a day, and may also cause headache.

Clopidogrel bisulfate (Plavix®) is an antiplatelet medication that is taken orally, once a day, to help prevent the formation of blood clots. It is prescribed for patients with atherosclerosis who have had a recent stroke and is used to prevent recurrence. Patients with medical conditions that may cause internal bleeding (e.g., stomach ulcers) should not use clopidogrel.

Side effects include abdominal pain, rash, diarrhea, and headache. Serious side effects (e.g., gastrointestinal hemorrhage) are rare. Physicians and dentists should be informed that a patient is taking clopidogrel before any surgery is scheduled.

Anticonvulsants such as diazepam (Valium®) and lorazepam (Ativan®) may be prescribed for patients who experience recurrent seizures after a stroke. Side effects include drowsiness, fatigue, and weakness.

Anticoagulants such as warfarin (Coumadin®) may be prescribed to prevent the formation of blood clots. Patients taking warfarin may require regular blood tests to monitor coagulation (blood clot formation) and prevent abnormal bleeding.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 02 Jan 2000

Last Modified: 11 Mar 2013