How to Treat the 25 Most Common Stroke Side Effects and Complications

How to Treat the 25 Most Common Stroke Side Effects and Complications

Stroke side effects will vary from patient to patient because every stroke is different.

In order to avoid confusion or panic, it’s good to familiarize yourself with the most common stroke after effects so that you know the best treatment options.

And as always, if you ever experiencing something out of the ordinary or alarming, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately.

Now, there are a lot of stroke side effects and complications after stroke, so we broke them down into 5 parts:

  1. Mobility complications after stroke
  2. Sensory complications after stroke
  3. Medical complications after stroke
  4. Emotional complications after stroke

As you can see, there’s a lot of ground to cover. So grab some coffee, make yourself comfortable, and let’s dig in.

Stroke Side Effects Part 1: Mobility Complications After Stroke

mobility complications after stroke

Most mobility complications after stroke can be treated through repetitive stroke recovery exercises that activate neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity is process where your brain creates new neural connections around the areas damaged by stroke.

You can engage neuroplasticity through repetitive practice; because you brain reinforces neural connections based on what you repeatedly practice.

Knowing this, you can better understand these mobility complications after stroke:

1. Paralysis on One Side of the Body (Hemiplegia)

paralysis stroke side effect

Muscle paralysis after stroke is known as hemiplegia.

This is caused by your brains inability to control your affected muscles due to brain damage from the stroke.

Treatment:

To reintroduce movement in your body, you need to participate in passive rehab exercises where you assist your affected limbs with your ‘good’ limbs.

As your brain starts to rewire itself (neuroplasticity) from the stimulation of the passive exercises, you can start to regain some movement and move on to active exercises.

The most important thing to emphasize is repetitive practice so that your brain has the stimulation it needs to heal.

2. Weak Muscle Control on One Side of the Body (Hemiparesis)

hemiparesis stroke after effect

Muscle weakness is a stroke side effect formally known as hemiparesis.

It’s important to understand that both hemiparesis and hemiplegia are not problems with your muscles, they are problems with your brain.

That’s where the saying “rehab starts in the brain, not the body” comes from.

Treatment:

The best treatment – by far – for improving muscle weakness is repetitive rehab exercise. The more you repeat movements using your affected muscles, the more your brain starts to relearn how to control those muscles.

3. Poor Muscle Control on Both Sides of the Body

sides of the brain and complications after stroke

The majority of strokes affect only one part of the brain and therefore affect one side of the body (the opposite side since each half of the brain controls the other half of the body).

However, some strokes (like brain stem strokes) can actually affect both sides of the body.

Treatment:

In these cases, rehabilitation will need to be applied to both sides of the body, not just one.

For example, instead of only working out your left side during rehab, you will need to work out both sides.

4. Balance Issues

balance issues stroke side effect

When stroke affects your ability to control your muscles, it’s common to develop balance issues.

Treatment:

Rehab exercises 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.

5. Progressed Paralyzed Muscles (Learned Nonuse)

complications after stroke and 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.

Treatment:

Once learned nonuse use developed, it can be reversed. Be aware that it takes lots of patience and practice.

In order to accomplish this, you can practice as much repetitive passive exercise as possible and participate in constrain-induced movement therapy if you can.

6. Tight, Stiff Muscles (Spasticity)

spasticity after stroke

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.

Treatment:

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.

7. Extremely Stiff, Painful Muscles (Contractures)

common complications after stroke include 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.

Treatment:

Passive range of motion exercises that gently introduce movement can help treat contractures.

8. Shoulder Complications (Frozen Shoulder, Subluxed Shoulder, and Pain)

shoulder stroke side effects

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.

Treatment:

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.

9. 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.

Treatment:

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.

10. Curled Toes

stroke side effect of 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.

Treatment:

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.

11. Difficulty Swallowing (Dysphagia)

stroke side effect of 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.

Treatment:

First off, be sure to eat soft foods and avoid eating lying down as it can lead to choking.

You can also work with a speech-language pathologist who is trained in how to help stroke patients relearn how to swallow food safely again.

Surprisingly, speech therapy exercises and apps also offer an effective way to reverse dysphagia.

12. Problems with Speech (Aphasia)

aphasia stroke side effect

When stroke affects your ability to speak, then you could be suffering from a condition called aphasia, which occurs when the language center of your brain is affected by stroke.

Treatment:

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. When speech therapy doesn’t help, you can also try singing therapy.

Surprisingly, singing may work because, even though a survivor may not be able to speak their words, they might still be able to sing their words.

This occurs because language is a left-brain function and singing is a right-brain function. So even though the left-brain language function is damaged, stroke survivors can still access their right-brain singing function!

Stroke Side Effects Part 2: Sensory Complications After Stroke

Sometimes there are sensory complications after stroke that can reduce your quality of life.

For example, difficulty with sight and touch can dramatically alter the way you interact with the world.

To help you out, we will discuss the best treatments for sensory complications after stroke:

13. Impaired Vision or Spatial Attention

vision problems after stroke

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 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.

Treatment:

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.

Also, try to create a habit of turning to your affected side to practice paying attention there.

The more attention you bring into your affected side consistently, the more you will stimulate that part of your brain and start to heal.

To treat field cuts, you may need to participate in visual therapy to retrain your brain how to see properly again. Eye exercises for stroke recovery and vision training can be very beneficial for treating impaired vision.

14. Odd, Mixed Up Sensations (Sensory Issues)

mixed up sensations

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.

Treatment:

If you suffer from sensory loss, then you should participate in sensory re-education.

During sensory re-education, you will participate in exercises such as touching different temperature or textured objects, identifying different temperatures, feeling electrical stimulation, feeling pressure, and many other exercises that engage your senses.

The goal of sensory re-education is to retrain sensory pathways in your brain. All sensory re-education exercises should be repeated at least a few times in order to maximize neuroplasticity and healing in the brain.

15. Post Stroke Pain

post stroke pain

Post stroke pain is an unfortunate side effect of stroke – one that many stroke survivors deal with. Of all the stroke side effects, post stroke pain can be the most disruptive to your life.

To treat post stroke pain, it’s important to narrow down what type of pain you’re experiencing, and then treat that type specifically.

Central post stroke pain is of often described as a pin-and-needles sensation accompanied by intense pain. This is a problem with sensation, and some studies have shown that sensory re-education can help with this type of pain.

Pain in your muscles can also be caused by spasticity, which is best treated with rehab exercises. Sometimes it works best to participate in other treatments too, like Botox, to provide relief while you work on your rehab exercises.

Post Stroke Side Effects Part 3: Medical Complications

16. Problems Controlling Your Bladder or Bowels (Incontinence)

incontience problems after stroke

Stroke can affect your ability to control your bladder and/or bowel movements, which is a condition known as incontinence.

Treatment:

Treatment for incontinence 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.

For example, count to 100, try to say the alphabet backwards, or take deep breaths to take your mind off your urgency and practice urgency control. The more you practice control, the better you will get at controlling your movements.

And in the meantime, you can use these tips for coping with incontinence.

17. Seizures

seizure side effect of stroke

Seizures occur when there is sudden disorganized electrical activity in the brain, and they can be a very scary experience. Once that about 5% of stroke survivors will experience.

It’s extremely important to remember not to hold down someone who is having a seizure and not to put anything in their mouth.

Instead, roll them onto their side (if they are on the floor), stay with them until the seizure is over, and pay attention to how long the seizure lasts.

If the seizure lasts for longer than 5 minutes, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Treatment:

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.

18. Bedsores

pressure ulcers are a common complications after stroke

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. (Source: American Stroke Association)

Treatment:

You can help prevent bedsores and pressure ulcers by re-positioning the body every couple hours. A good hospital nurse usually takes care of this for immobilized stroke patients.

At home, you can treat bedsores with range of motion exercises and by gently cleaning them with mild soap and water. Seek medical treatment if they get infected.

19. Pneumonia

pneumonia is the most morbid complications after stroke

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. Unfortunately, post-stroke pneumonia causes the highest attributable mortality of all medical complications after stroke. (Source: Neurohospitalist Journal)

Treatment:

Pneumonia is often treated with antibiotics. For stroke patients, extra treatment should also include therapy from a speech-language pathologist to help reduce aspirations.

20. Deep Venous Thrombosis

deep venous thrombosis medical complications after stroke

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.

Treatment:

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. (Source: Mayo Clinic)

21. Headaches

stroke side effect of headaches

Headaches are a common and worrisome stroke after effect. Mild headaches are sometimes considered common and should go away with the passage of time.

But if you experience severe headaches or mild headaches that last for longer than a few hours, seek medical attention immediately because it could be a sign of something going horribly wrong.

Treatment:

If you experience a headache, try drinking lots of water. Sometimes headaches are caused by dehydration since your brain is made of 75% water. Your brain is also trying to heal itself, so your body may need more water now than it did before.

If you are hydrated and still experience headaches, or mild headaches that last for longer than a few hours, then seek medical attention immediately!

22. Post-Stroke Fatigue

stroke side effect tired all the time

Ah yes, this is one of the most common stroke side effects that can often catch you off guard. Because even if you didn’t need much sleep before stroke, you’re probably going to need A LOT of sleep after stroke.

Because your brain is rapidly trying to heal itself, and it needs lots of rest and relaxation in order to keep healing.

Treatment:

When your body wants sleep, let yourself sleep. If your environment is getting in the way, let friends and family know how important sleep is for your health right now. Hopefully they will accommodate your need for quality 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 so desperately needs.

Not into medication? Try some deep breathing or relaxation techniques before bed to help promote sleepiness.

Stroke Side Effects Part 4: Emotional Complications After Stroke

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

emotional lability stroke side effect

If you have experienced random bouts of laughter and/or crying, you may suffer from a condition known as emotional lability (also known as pseudobulbar effect).

Emotional lability can interfere with a stroke survivor’s life when outbursts of emotion are not fitting for the environment, like laughing at a funeral or busting into tears while picking a child up from school.

Treatment:

There are 3 ways to treat emotional lability. First, you can try using medication, which is a common route. Second, you can try hoping that the condition goes away on its own (i.e. spontaneous recovery) as it sometimes does.

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

identity issues after stroke

Many stroke survivors feel like they’re a different person after stroke. In fact, we’ve heard some survivors refer to themselves as ‘after-stroke-me’ and ‘before-stroke-me.’

If you can relate to this, then you may be experiencing identity issues or personality changes after stroke.

Treatment:

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

depression after stroke side effect

Unfortunately, depression and anxiety are common stroke side effects that many survivors experience and overcome. There are many causes of depression – from changes to the brain to changes in lifestyle – so there are also many treatment options.

Treatment:

Try joining a local or online stroke support group if you can. You can also look for positive reading material, like our stroke recovery book Healing & Happiness After Stroke.

It’s an excellent tool for boosting self-esteem and happiness during recovery.

And that’s a wrap! We hope you find these 25 treatments for the most common stroke side effects useful.