If you've suffered a stroke recently, you are not alone. Each year, nearly 800,000 people--and about 55,000 more women than men--will have a stroke. Stroke is a sort of "brain attack" in which a blood clot blocks an artery from carrying blood from the heart to the body or a blood vessel breaks, cutting off blood flow to the brain. When either of these events happens, brain cells begin to die and brain damage occurs.

The severity of the stroke and the part of the brain affected by the stroke determines which abilities, including speech, movement and memory might be lost. For example, someone experiencing a minor stroke may have weakness in an arm or a leg, whereas someone having a larger stroke may be paralyzed on one side or lose her ability to speak.

Of course, your top priority after suffering a stroke is how quickly you can recover and relearn the skills you may have lost. Participating in stroke rehabilitation, or stroke rehab, can help you regain your independence. However, how quickly and successfully you recover depend on a several factors, including:

  • The amount of damage to your brain
  • The skill of your rehabilitation team
  • A good support network of family and friends
  • How soon after your stroke you begin rehab

Depending on the areas of the brain affected by a stroke, rehab may include:

  • Communication therapy to help you regain lost abilities in speaking, listening, writing and comprehension
  • Motor skill strengthening exercises to improve muscle strength and coordination
  • The use of walking aids such as braces, walkers or canes to support your body's weight while you relearn how to walk
  • Exercises to lessen muscle tension and regain range of motion
  • Psychological therapy
  • Constraint-induced therapy involving restricting the use of an unaffected limb to encourage use of an affected limb to improve its function
  • Electrical stimulation to weakened muscles, causing them to contract, building muscle strength

Your stroke rehabilitation will probably begin while you are still in the hospital and then move to an outside setting depending on your needs and what your insurance will cover. For example, it may be necessary for you to stay at an inpatient facility for several weeks for intensive therapy or you may be able to relearn skills at an outpatient clinic in which you spend several hours a day but return home each night.

Talk to your doctor about what the best option is for you. And remember, recovering from a stroke can take a long time. Don't get discouraged.