How long do stroke symptoms last after a brain stroke?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My sister just turned 50 and had a brain stroke. How long do stroke symptoms last usually?

Expert Answer

James Castle, M.D. is a neurologist at NorthShore University HealthSystem (affiliated with The University of Chicago) and an expert on strokes.

Unfortunately, this is a very difficult question to answer.  The general rule I use is that if people survive the initial days of the stroke, and the complications during that early phase, they almost always have some improvement.  However, the amount of improvement is extremely variable.  Some patients return to normal, some only have very mild improvement.  Typically, most of the improvement happens within the first 6 months after the stroke, but, on occasion, improvement can be seen out to 2 years after the stroke.

I often tell my patients and their families that predicting recovery from a stroke is a very imperfect science.  In some areas of medicine, prediction is easier.  For example, if you break your arm, a cast is place, and a farely accurate prediction can be given as to how long it will take to heal.  In stroke, we are not nearly so accurate.  I often compare our ability to forecast to that of a weatherman.  We are frequently incorrect, typically use rough percentages, and the farther down the road we are predicting, the less accurate.

Therefore, unfortunately, I cannot give you a great answer.  One easy way to get a better sense is to track her recovery over the first few days and weeks from the stroke.  If she is recovering well, you can usually expect continued improvement.  If she is not recovering well, this often portends a poor overall recovery down the road.