Friday, August 12, 2011




In my previous article posted on 11th August 2011, I had discussed about the various medications that are required to be taken by a stroke patient. However, there are several other aspects of post-stroke care that are equally important to make the life of a stroke survivor better & more comfortable.

1. Assessment of swallowing

Eating food is probably the most important function and a normal swallowing ensures that the patient can take liquids and solid food. Swallowing can be impaired in a stroke of medulla oblongata (brain stem or posterior circulation) and also in bilateral hemispheric strokes. Sometimes, the patient may be too drowsy to swallow. In a person who is awake and conscious, the adequacy of swallowing can be assessed by a swallow test. The patient is made to sit up and asked to swallow a glass of clear water. If he can drink it within half a minute without coughing or choking, then the swallowing seems to be adequate and the patient may be started on oral feeding.

2. Feeding

Feeding and good nutrition is an important aspect of ensuring a good post-stroke recovery. For patients who can swallow, normal food can be given by mouth as early as possible. For people who can not swallow, there are two options. In the first option, a tube (Ryles tube or naso-gastric tube) is inserted from nose upto the stomach and is kept secured by an adhesive near the nose. Then, liquid diet (milk, juice, etc) can be given at 2-hourly intervals through the tube. Ensure that the patient is not lying down while feeding, and the patient head end should be elevated by 30-45 degrees and left so for at least half an hour after feeding. The other option is PEG (percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy), where a tube is inserted directly into the stomach by a minor surgical procedure by the gastroenterologist. The advantage of PEG (over the naso-gastric tube) are two-fold: i) It can be kept for much longer periods. Ryle's tube needs to be changed every 2-4 weeks. ii) Different types of food can be given via PEG.

3. Physiotherapy

Physiotherapy is the only method by which the strength and balance of the person can be improved upon. Many patients have significant residual weakness and imbalance after brain attack (stroke). They may be unable to stand or walk without support. They may also be unable to use their hands for any meaningful work. This is where physiotherapy is very important. Physiotherapy should be done under guidance of qualified physiotherapists. It should be done on a regular basis. Many patients ask for medicines or operations to improve the muscle weakness; unfortunately there are none, but good & regular physiotherapy can definitely make the muscle power & strength better.

4. Speech therapy

Many stroke survivors have language dysfunction. This can range from difficulty in understanding spoken words, inability to read or write, speaking or repeating the spoken words. In right-handed individuals, language area is located in the left side of brain. Therefore, language problems are more common after strokes on the left side of brain (which causes right sided weakness also). Additionally, patients with stroke in cerebellum (posterior circulation) may have slurred speech, but they are able to understand and speak. Patients with speech problems benefit from speech therapy. This can be taken under the guidance of trained speech therapists/rehab experts.

5. Nursing care

Good nursing care is very important in the post-stroke recovery. This includes feeding, bladder & bowel care, frequent position changing, and bathing. A stroke survivor may be dependent on others for activities of daily living and this is where nursing care is important. If a person lies on the same position for long, bed sores may develop, so, the position of the patient should be changed every two hours. Patient may have urinary and fecal incontinence (lack of control leading to voiding of uring and stool in clothes). This can be overcome with the help of adult diapers or changing clothes/bedsheets as per the needs.

6. Prevention of deep vein thrombosis

Blood clots may develop in the leg veins of people who are immobile. Therefore, in stroke survivors with paralysis of legs, there is a higher chance of clots forming in the leg veins (deep vein thrombosis or DVT). This can be minimised by frequent passive movements of the paralsed leg by the care-giver. There are compression stockings available in the market, which can be worn by the stroke patient to prevent DVT.

7. Cognitive stimulation and counseling:

Patients with stroke are prone to develop dementia (memory loss and other cognitive dysfunction) and depression. The risk can be minimised by various measures. Firstly, the patient should be kept in a well-lit room where abundant natural light comes in. Some stroke survivors may have reversal of sleep rhythm (they may sleep during the day and keep awake at nights). This rhythm may delay the recovery from stroke. Therefore, the patient should be kept busy/engaged during the day and not allowed to sleep. If the patient finds it difficult to sleep during nights, a small dose of sleeping pill may be used. Patients may be encouraged to listen to songs/music (through head phones, etc); allowed to meet with various friends or relatives; talk as often as possible (if patients can not talk, even listening is important for brain stimulation, so the visitors should be encouraged to talk even if the patient does not respond).

Depression after stroke is also common. So, proper counseling and psychotherapy is important. Sometimes, antidepressant medications may also be required.

8. Sexual functions

There is no restriction as such, and sexual functions can be resumed as per the patients' ability. Sexual drive may diminish after stroke, and sometimes, there may be linmitations due to physical handicap. These can be overcome to a great extent with the halp of an understanding partner.

9. Diet
  • A good diet is essential for proper recovery.
  • A diabetic should follow the diabetic diet.
  • Generally, the diet should be low in fat and cholesterol content.
  • As constipation is common in post-stroke patient, the diet should be rich in fibre content.
10. Physical activity

Physical activity is encouraged in stroke survivors. They should be encouraged to stand and walk inside home or be taken for an evening or morning walk with an attendant. If these is a risk of fall, use of a walking stick or walker is encouraged. Prolonged sick leave or bed rest is not advised, and the patient should return to normal life activites as early as possible.

Phone: 040-23607777/040-60601066


Sammy said...

Thank you doctor. This blog is very informative.

sumit agrawal said...

Thanks dr. That's been really helpful.