The Importance of Medication Adherence and Stroke Prevention

11.29.23

Strokes bring on many lifestyle changes. Most survivors are sent home from the hospital with a multitude of new medications to prevent subsequent strokes.

These medications (such as blood thinners) are important. For example, Cleveland Clinic notes that survivors face the highest risk of another stroke within the first two days, but they remain vulnerable even up to one year after the first stroke.

Unfortunately, more than half of stroke survivors stop taking their life-saving medications within months of the stroke without doctor approval. Missed doses quickly lead to increased stroke risk.

So, why do survivors risk another stroke by not following medication adherence and stroke prevention advice?

Why Don’t Survivors Take Medications as Prescribed?
Depending on an individual’s risk factors and the type of stroke they’ve experienced (ischemic, hemorrhagic, or transient ischemic attack [TIA or mini-stroke]), they will need these medications for either short-term or long-term periods.

Additional medications may help manage comorbidities like Atrial Fibrillation (AFib), high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol. However, many survivors stop taking these medications, too.

In some instances, a busy survivor doesn’t treat medication as a priority. Other survivors may not understand the implications of medication adherence and stroke prevention due to a lack of overall knowledge. Sometimes their doctors haven’t discussed unmodifiable and modifiable risk factors thoroughly or effectively. At other times, the doctor has discussed prevention measures, but the stroke survivor may not grasp and retain that knowledge while still in the hospital coping with the shock of having had a stroke.

Other reasons stroke survivors abandon their medication routine may include:

  • unpleasant side effects
  • cost
  • stubborn refusal
  • forgetfulness due to memory loss or dementia
  • post-stroke depression

Some survivors experience denial. If they haven’t had more strokes over time, they may feel it’s safe to forgo medication adherence and stroke prevention.

Furthermore, it may be difficult for a survivor to pick up their prescriptions if they’ve lost the ability to walk or drive and they lack a caregiver to do the errand for them.

How Can Survivors Better Follow Medication Routines and Prevent Subsequent Strokes?
It’s difficult to adopt a multitude of lifestyle changes at once. In the beginning, just keeping track of all the doctor appointments can be overwhelming.

But it’s important to keep these appointments. Write down any questions beforehand. Ask about those modifiable risks that you may not have been told or you have forgotten. Bring a family member or friend along for support and to advocate for you.

Follow these other tips:

  • Call the doctor’s office with any side effects. Discuss if switching meds, changing the way they’re taken, or a different dosage can alleviate discomfort.
  • Ask a doctor or pharmacist about a medicine assistance program if costs impede medication adherence and stroke prevention.
  • Find a pharmacy with delivery or mail order services.
  • Enroll in an automatic refill program so prescriptions never run out.
  • Set medication reminders on phones.
  • Use a pill organizer box to organize dosages and times.
  • Bring extra doses of medication along when traveling.
  • Join support groups for accountability and moral support.

Why is Medication Adherence and Stroke Prevention Advice Especially Important for Survivors with AFib? 
AFib is an abnormal heart rhythm that leads to an increased risk of blood clots that can cause a stroke. Untreated AFib raises an individual’s ischemic stroke risk 3-5 times higher than average.

An individual with AFib may experience:

  • fluttering heart sensations
  • lightheadedness
  • fatigue
  • shortness of breath

Untreated AFib can lead to silent strokes. Silent strokes may cause vascular dementia. Fortunately, doctors can prescribe medications such as antiplatelets to reduce the likelihood that clots form.

It’s crucial to prevent subsequent strokes. Strokes can limit an individual’s cognitive and physical abilities. Survivors need to seek out support and education so they can diligently follow life-saving medication adherence and stroke prevention advice. It’s also essential to manage any comorbidities like AFib.

Stroke Support Association holds weekly support groups in Long Beach and also via Zoom, at which stroke survivors can discuss medication adherence and stroke prevention with their peers. Meetings are free, but donations are appreciated.

 

 

 

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