Because every stroke is different, every patient will have different stroke side effects.
If you are a stroke survivor or caregiver, then understanding the different side effects will help you prepare for the road to recovery ahead.
Before we dig into the list, here’s some essential background:
What Causes Stroke Side Effects?
A stroke is caused when the supply of blood in the brain is compromised. This deprives brain tissue of oxygen-rich blood, causing brain cells to die.
Once the stroke has been treated, normal blood flow is restored. This puts an end to the stroke. However, the damage left behind leads to side effects.
This article will list the 25 most common stroke side effects with links to learn more.
Let’s start with the physical after effects of stroke.
Part 1: Physical Stroke Side Effects
1. Hemiparesis (Weakness on One Side of the Body)
Many stroke patients sustain motor impairments that affect one side of the body, a condition known as hemiparesis. This occurs after the motor cortex is damaged and cannot send signals to the affected muscles. Treatment involves physical therapy to rewire the brain and restore movement.
2. Hemiplegia (Paralysis on One Side of the Body)
Patients suffering severe stroke often develop paralysis on one side of the body. This chronic condition is best managed with physical therapy. Treatment should involve practicing passive paralysis exercises to help rewire the brain and improve mobility.
3. Spasticity (Stiff, Tight Muscles)
When affected muscles become stiff and tight, it’s due to a condition called spasticity. This limits a stroke patient’s range of motion. Treatment involves physical therapy to rewire the brain and loosen the muscles. Temporary management involves Botox and prescription medications.
4. Contractures (Extremely Stiff, Painful Muscles)
Contractures are an advanced stage of spasticity characterized by extreme stiffness in the muscles, joints, or connective tissue. Management involves splints and passive range of motion exercises.
5. Shoulder Pain
Because the shoulder socket is particularly vulnerable to injury, many stroke patients experience shoulder pain. Treatment involves physical therapy shoulder exercises and pain medication.
6. Shoulder Subluxation
When the shoulder starts to become dislocated from its socket, it can lead to shoulder subluxation. The condition can be managed with special slings, and it can be treated with electrical stimulation and rehab exercise.
7. Frozen Shoulder
When subluxed shoulder worsens, it can lead to frozen shoulder, where the shoulder becomes inflammed from the dislocation. This condition can also be treated with slings, electrical stimulation, Botox, and most importantly, physical therapy.
8. Foot Drop
When patients have difficulty lifting the front part of the foot, they are dealing with a stroke side effect called foot drop. Management involves wearing an AFO brace to prop the foot up and improve safety. Treatment involves rehabilitation exercise and physical therapy.
7. Curled Toes
When the toes curl under, often in a painful manner, it’s the result of spasticity in the feet. This condition is known as curled toes. Treatment involves toe separators, AFOs, and of course, rehabilitation exercise.
8. Balance Issues
The motor impairments that follow stroke often result in poor balance, putting stroke patients at high risk of falling. Rehabilitation exercises, particularly for the legs and core, can help restore movement in the body and improve balance.
9. Learned Nonuse
If stroke patients fail to move their muscles (either through active exercise or passive range of motion), they may suffer a side effect called learned nonuse. This condition causes your brain to completely forget about the affected muscles. This is where the phrase “use it or lose it!” comes from.
10. Visual Problems
Sometimes stroke patients cannot see half of their visual field, a condition called hemianopia. Other times vision is distorted because the brain cannot control the eye muscles. Treatment involves vision restoration therapy (i.e. eye exercises) and often prescription glasses.
11. Dysphagia (Difficulty Swallowing)
If you have difficulty swallowing after stroke, it could be a sign that you have a stroke side effect known as dysphagia. Patients work with Speech Language Pathologists (SLP) to retrain the brain to control the swallowing muscles.
12. Aphasia (Difficulty with Language)
When stroke affects your ability to speak, then you may have a condition called aphasia. Treatment involves speech therapy exercises and possibly working with an SLP. If the patient cannot talk at all after stroke, there is still hope for recovery with singing therapy.
Part 2: Sensory Stroke Side Effects
13. Left neglect
Image from Journal of Neurology
Hemineglect is a spatial awareness problem that prevents the stroke patient from noticing half of their environment and body — often the left side (informally known as left neglect). If someone with left neglect is asked to fill in the numbers on an empty clock, they may cram everything into the right side without realizing it.
14. Sensory Issues
Many patients experience sensory issues such as numbness, tingling, pins-and-needles, and issues with feeling hot/cold. Luckily, these issues can be treated through sensory reeducation.
15. Central Neuropathy
The most chronic type of post-stroke pain is central neuropathy, or central post stroke pain. Currently, the only known treatments are pain medications, but sensory reeducation and physical therapy may help.
16. Post-Stroke Pain
Localized pain after stroke can be caused by other stroke side effects like spasticity or contractures. This type of pain is best treated by addressing the underlying condition.
Part 3: Medical Complications After Stroke
Stroke can affect your ability to control your bladder and/or bowel movements, which is a condition known as incontinence.
About 5% of stroke survivors will experience seizures after stroke. Seizures occur when there is sudden disorganized electrical activity in the brain, causing the body to convulse. They can be prevented and treated using medication or a vagus nerve stimulator.
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.
Sometimes stroke patients with dysphagia (impaired swallowing) accidentally inhale food into the lungs. These occurrences are called aspirations, which can lead to pneumonia in stroke patients. Aspirations should be taken very seriously because they are the biggest cause of attributable mortality from medical complications after stroke.
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, doctors may prescribe blood-thinning medication.
Headaches are a common and worrisome stroke side effect. If you experience severe or mild headaches that last for longer than a few hours, seek medical attention immediately because it signify further medical complications.
22. Post-Stroke Fatigue
During stroke recovery, the brain is trying to heal itself, which may drain the patient’s energy. Everyday tasks may take more energy to complete, resulting in daytime sleepiness or fatigue. As a result, excessive sleeping is common in stroke patients, and it’s encouraged.
Stroke Side Effects Part 4: Emotional Complications
23. Pseudobulbar Affect
Random bouts of laughter and/or crying may stem from a post stroke side effect known as emotional lability or pseudobulbar effect.
24. Personality Changes
Many stroke survivors feel like they’re a different person after stroke. This is likely caused by changes in abilities, thinking, and behavior after stroke.
25. Post-Stroke Depression and Anxiety
Unfortunately, depression and anxiety are common stroke side effects that many survivors experience and overcome. Sometimes it takes time for emotions to lift. Patients struggling with depression can also look for positive reading material, like our stroke recovery book Healing & Happiness After Stroke.
If you or a loved one suffer from any of these side effects after stroke, we hope this guide provided you with the answers you need for recovery.