A stroke occurs when the blood vessels in the brain become blocked or bursts. Either way, the sudden lack of oxygen results in damaged brain cells, and later, the death of brain tissue. Which leads us to our question for the day, can the brain heal itself after a stroke?
Yes, it can! Although brain cells can become critically damaged after a stroke, they are able to ‘regenerate’ or become anew through the process of neurogenesis — which describes the process of creating new brain cells.
The Stroke Recovery Timeline
To be able to understand how neurogenesis works, let’s first take a look at the standard stroke recovery timeline (listed based on the most common milestones associated with stroke recovery:)
- Week 1-4: The first few weeks after a stroke is triggered, a patient may experience some improvement on their ability to speak, think clearly, and even increase their mobility. The improvements are slow and can last for the next several months (or years.)
- Week 5-6: After the first month, stroke rehabilitation intensifies — most patients are told to go through inpatient our outpatient therapy during this time.
- Month 1-3: This is the period where patients see the most improvement — and it often occurs in quick and rapid succession.
- Month 6: Once patients reached their sixth month, they may experience several large or major improvements, these will occur more slowly than they did before, and will be dependent, entirely, on how much effort is put into the patient’s rehabilitation.
- Year 1-2: In some cases, like for those who suffer from aphasia (which affects around 38% of stroke patients), full recovery might take up to two years.
This timeline takes full advantage of both natural recovery (neurogenesis) and rehabilitation in order to encourage the best possible improvements.
Neurogenesis is the process in which neurons, the cell of the nervous system, are produced by natural stem cells. Damage to the brain can invoke neurogenesis in order to improve cognitive impairment. Recent studies have also discovered that neurogenesis can help, significantly, to counteract cognitive impairments caused by a stroke.
Our knowledge of what occurs during neurogenesis is spotty, but the reason why rehabilitation is intensified after the first month or so is to encourage as much improvement as possible in order to help neurogenesis along.
Final Thoughts: Can the Brain Heal Itself After a Stroke?
With the help of the built-in natural systems in our body, even something as complex as the brain can be healed! Of course, outside interventions will still be required. However, with proper rehabilitation, a person who has been affected by a stroke should be able to recover in some form. It will just take some time and a lot of effort.
- Yu, Zeng-Zhi, et al. “Study on Language Rehabilitation for Aphasia.” Chinese Medical Journal, Medknow Publications & Media Pvt Ltd, 20 June 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5463481/#ref1.
- Darsalia, Vladimer, et al. “Stroke-Induced Neurogenesis in Aged Brain.” Stroke, vol. 36, no. 8, 2005, pp. 1790–1795., doi:10.1161/01.str.0000173151.36031.be.