25 stroke side effects and treatments
The potential after effects of stroke can create anxiety among patients and caregivers.
To help with a smooth transition through stroke rehabilitation, it’s good to familiarize yourself with the possible stroke side effects and treatment options.
That way, if any of these complications do arise, you know how to approach stroke treatment.
Let’s start with the physical side effects of stroke.
Stroke Side Effects Part 1: Physical Complications
A stroke is caused by a clogged or burst artery in the brain.
When part of the brain is deprived of oxygen-rich blood, brain cells begin to die. This leads to the side effects of stroke.
Overall, there are 12 physical side effects of stroke:
1. Paralysis on One Side of the Body (Hemiplegia)
Paralysis on the left or right side of the body after stroke is known as hemiplegia.
Hemiplegia occurs when the stroke damaged the part of the brain that controls movement.
This severe stroke side effect is often a result of massive stroke.
Passive rehabilitation exercises – where you assist your affected limbs with your non-affected limbs – are the best way to treat hemiplegia.
The stimulation from the therapeutic rehab exercise helps your brain rewire itself (through neuroplasticity), and you may slowly start to regain some mobility.
Studies also show that kenesio taping the affected side into proper alignment can also help treat hemiplegia.
2. Weak Motor Control (Hemiparesis)
Muscle weakness on one side of the body is a stroke side effect known as hemiparesis.
Generally, it takes less time to recover from hemiparesis than hemiplegia.
How long it takes to recover from stroke will vary from patient to patient, though, since every stroke is different.
The best treatment to improve motor control after stroke is massed practice of stroke rehabilitation exercise.
Massed practice simply refers to high repetition, which helps the brain rewire itself and create new neural pathways.
Repeating movements using your affected muscles retrains your brain to control those muscles.
3. Tight, Stiff Muscles (Spasticity)
Spasticity is also a very common stroke after effect that is characterized by stiffness in your affected muscles.
It’s very important to understand the difference between temporary and permanent treatment for spasticity.
To temporarily relieve spasticity, you can get Botox injections to loosen the affected muscles. However, the root cause of spasticity is in your brain, not your muscles.
A lasting spasticity treatment need to address the root problem, which is your brain’s inability to communicate with those muscles.
The best way to restore the communication between your brain and your muscles is with repetitive stroke rehabilitation exercise.
As you rewire the brain through exercise, your muscles will slowly relax.
Bonus: Download our free stroke recovery tips ebook. (Link will open a pop-up that will not interrupt your reading.)
4. Extremely Stiff, Painful Muscles (Contractures)
When spasticity is neglected, it can progress into a post stroke side effect called a contracture.
Contractures are often painful and extremely stiff muscles after stroke, often occurring in the hand and shoulders.
Passive range of motion exercises that gently introduce movement can help treat contractures.
5. Shoulder Complications
Shoulder pain is one of the most common stroke side effects in hemiplegic patients (those who suffer from paralysis).
When the shoulder starts to become dislocated from its socket, it can lead to shoulder subluxation, a painful complication after stroke.
And when subluxed shoulder worsens, it can lead to frozen shoulder, where the shoulder becomes inflammed from the dislocation.
As with all motor complications after stroke, the best treatment for shoulder problems is shoulder rehab exercise.
For subluxed or frozen shoulder, it’s best to work alongside a physical therapist, too. They can recommend assistive devices to help improve comfort.
6. Foot Drop
When you have difficulty lifting the front part of your foot up, you are dealing with a stroke side effect called foot drop.
Again, it’s important to understand the difference between temporary and permanent treatment for foot drop.
You can get an AFO brace that inserts into your shoe and props your foot up. The benefit of this is immediate relief from foot drop and less danger of falling. However, this doesn’t address the root problem.
Instead, the best treatment for foot drop is foot drop exercise. It’s the best way to rewire the brain and regain control of your foot permanently.
7. Curled Toes
When your toes curl under, often in a painful manner, it’s the result of spasticity in your feet. This condition is known as curled toes.
You can use AFOs to separate and treat curled toes. You can also resort to surgery if curled toes are causing you agony and pain.
To help reduce curled toes long-term, you can also try rehab exercises for curled toes.
8. Balance Issues
When stroke affects your ability to control your muscles, it’s common to develop balance issues.
Stroke rehabilitation exercise will help restore muscle control on your affected side, which will improve your balance overall.
However, your core plays a strong role in your balance, so adding core exercises to your regimen is greatly encouraged.
9. Learned Nonuse
It’s very important to move your muscles at least a little everyday otherwise you could develop a stroke side effects known as learned nonuse.
Essentially, your brain can completely forget how to use your affected limbs if you completely neglect them. So be sure to move your muscles at least a little every day!! This is where the phrase “use it or lose it” comes from.
Once learned nonuse use developed, it can be reversed. Be aware that it takes lots of patience and practice.
10. Visual Problems
Sometimes stroke patients cannot see half of their visual field, a condition called hemianopia.
There are also other visual problems after stroke like central vision loss and visual neglect.
Sometimes eye exercises after stroke can help improve vision.
Other times, more aggressive treatments, like visual restoration therapy, is needed to produce results.
11. Difficulty Swallowing (Dysphagia)
Sometimes stroke impairs your control of the muscles in your throat. If you have difficulty swallowing after stroke, it could be a sign that you have a condition known as dysphagia.
Eat soft foods and work with a speech-language pathologist who can help you relearn how to swallow food safely again.
Surprisingly, speech therapy exercises and apps can also help improve oral motor skills.
12. Problems with Speech (Aphasia)
When stroke affects your ability to speak, then you could be suffering from a condition called aphasia.
This stroke side effect is common in left side stroke survivors where the language center of your brain may be affected.
Some survivors experience spontaneous recovery from aphasia, which means that the condition fixes itself over time.
Other survivors need to practice speech therapy exercises to help regain their ability to speak.
And even when stroke patients can’t talk at all after stroke, sometimes singing therapy can help.
Stroke Side Effects Part 2: Sensory Complications
Sometimes there are sensory complications after stroke that affect your ability to see and feel.
13. Impaired Vision or Spatial Attention
If you find yourself completely neglecting things and people on the affected side of your body, then you may suffer from one-sided neglect or field cuts.
One-sided neglect (aka hemineglect) is an attention issue, which means that you cannot pay attention to your affected side.
Field cuts are a visual issue, which means that you cannot see on your affected side.
To treat one-sided neglect, try to have people approach you on your affected side. This will help train you to bring attention into your affected side.
To treat field cuts, you may need to participate in visual therapy to retrain your brain how to see properly again.
14. Odd, Mixed Up Sensations (Sensory Issues)
You may have sensory issues after stroke if you’ve experienced any of the following symptoms:
- Inability to feel hot/cold
- Feeling hot/cold at inappropriate times
- Tingling or numbing sensations
- Inability to taste
- Dramatic change in taste
- Pins-and-needles sensation
All of these issues are caused by sensory loss.
If you suffer from sensory loss, then you should participate in sensory re-education.
This form of therapy helps retrain sensory pathways in your brain.
15. Post Stroke Pain
Post stroke pain is an unfortunate side effect of stroke. There are generally two types:
Central post stroke pain is of often described as a pin-and-needles sensation accompanied by intense pain.
Spastic pain comes from tightness in the muscles after stroke.
Central post stroke pain is a sensation problem, and some studies suggest that sensory re-education can help.
Spastic pain is best treated with massed practice of stroke rehab exercises, which help improve motor control and reduce the spasticity.
Supplementary treatments like Botox can also provide short-term relief.
Post Stroke Side Effects Part 3: Medical Complications
16. Problems Controlling Your Bladder or Bowels (Incontinence)
Stroke can affect your ability to control your bladder and/or bowel movements, which is a condition known as incontinence.
Treatment for incontinence after stroke involves a practice called ‘urgency control.’
The next time you feel like you have to pee, do something mentally to take your mind off the urgency to relieve yourself.
The more you practice urgency control, the better you may get at it.
Seizures occur when there is sudden disorganized electrical activity in the brain. They can be a very scary to experience or watch.
About 5% of stroke survivors will experience seizures after stroke.
Seizures are typically controlled with anti-seizure medication.
In severe cases, there is a device called a vagus nerve stimulator that is surgically attached to your neck to stimulate the nerve with electrical impulses.
This stimulation helps prevent future seizures.
Bedsores are pressure ulcers that happen when there is prolonged pressure on areas of the body due to decreased mobility.
They often happen during longer hospital stays, and they are unfortunately very common in stroke patients.
You can help prevent bedsores and pressure ulcers by re-positioning the body every couple hours.
At home, you can treat bedsores with range of motion exercises and by gently cleaning them with mild soap and water.
Sometimes stroke patients with dysphagia (the impaired swallowing stroke side effect) accidentally inhale food into the lungs.
This is called aspirations or, when the stroke patient is not aware of it, silent aspirations.
Aspirations can lead to pneumonia in stroke patients, which is the biggest cause of attributable mortality from medical complications after stroke.
Pneumonia is often treated with antibiotics. If the complication was caused by aspirations, then you should work with a speech-language pathologist to help reduce aspirations.
20. Deep Venous Thrombosis
Deep venuous thrombosis is a medical condition where blood clots form in veins of the legs, often due to impaired mobility.
Since many stroke patients struggle with mobility issues, this stroke risk factor increases during recovery.
If you’re at risk of developing deep venous thrombosis, talk with your doctor. They may prescribe a variety of treatments including blood-thinning medication and compression socks.
Headaches are a common and worrisome stroke after effect.
Sometimes headaches are caused by dehydration since your brain is made of 73% water. As the brain heals after stroke, your body may need more water.
If you experience severe or mild headaches that last for longer than a few hours, seek medical attention immediately because it could be a sign of further medical complications.
22. Post-Stroke Fatigue
Even if you didn’t need much sleep before stroke, you’re probably going to need a lot of sleep after stroke.
As your brain tries to heal itself, it needs lots of rest and relaxation in order to keep healing.
When your body wants sleep, let yourself sleep.
If you’re experiencing trouble with sleeping, then talk to your doctor. They may recommend some medication to help you get the sleep your brain needs.
Stroke Side Effects Part 4: Emotional Complications
The emotional complications after stroke should not be overlooked.
Not only can stroke damage the emotion center of the brain, creating various emotional stroke side effects, but the dramatic change in quality of life also deserves attention.
Here are the most common emotional complications after stroke:
23. Emotional Lability / Pseudobulbar Affect
Random bouts of laughter and/or crying may stem from a post stroke side effect known as emotional lability or pseudobulbar effect.
There are 3 ways to treat emotional lability.
First, you can try using medication. Second, you can wait to see if the condition goes away on its own (i.e. spontaneous recovery).
Third, you can try rewiring your brain by practicing your emotions. This is the most proactive, natural treatment to try.
24. Personality Changes and Identity Issues
Many stroke survivors feel like they’re a different person after stroke.
If you can relate to this, then you may be experiencing identity issues or personality changes after stroke.
If your personality has changed and you want to get back to your old self, then meditation can help. Also, working with a psychotherapist can be very helpful during this time.
25. Post-Stroke Depression and Anxiety
Unfortunately, depression and anxiety are common stroke side effects that many survivors experience and overcome.
And that’s a wrap! We hope this ultimate guide to treating stroke side effects was useful for you!