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Stroke Side Effects: Understanding the After Math

the ultimate guide to stroke side effects and treatments

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.

Learn more about hemiparesis after stroke »

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.

Learn more about paralysis after stroke »

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.

Learn more about spasticity »

Bonus: Download our free stroke recovery tips ebook. (Link will open a pop-up that will not interrupt your reading.)

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.

Learn more about contractures after stroke »

5. Shoulder Pain

physiotherapist taping a patient's stroke side effect of 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.

Learn more about shoulder pain after stroke »

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.

Learn more about shoulder subluxation »

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.

Learn more about frozen shoulder after stroke »

8. Foot Drop

illustration of dorsiflexion and how it creates the stroke side effect of 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.

Learn more about foot drop after stroke »

9. 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.

Learn more about treating curled toes after stroke »

10. 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.

Learn more about improving balance after stroke »

11. 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.

Learn how to prevent learned nonuse »

12. Visual Problems

optometrist looking for stroke side effects like vision impairments

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.

Learn more about vision problems after stroke »

13. 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.

Learn more about dysphagia »

14. 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.

Learn more about language problems after stroke »

Part 2: Sensory Stroke Side Effects

15. Left neglect

drawing of a clock with only half filled in due to hemineglect side effect in stroke patient

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.

Learn more about left neglect »

16. 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.

Learn more about sensory reeducation »

17. 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.

Learn more about neuropathy »

18. 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.

Learn more about post stroke pain »

Part 3: Medical Complications After Stroke

19. Incontinence

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

Learn more about incontinence after stroke »

20. Seizures

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.

Learn more about seizures after stroke »

21. Bedsores

diagram of stroke patient with side effect of pressure ulcers

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.

Learn more about pressure ulcers »

22. Pneumonia

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.

Learn more about pneumonia after stroke »

23. 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.

Learn more about DVT after stroke »

24. Headaches

woman struggling with headache in hospital bed

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.

Learn more about headaches after stroke »

25. 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.

Learn more about fatigue after stroke »

Stroke Side Effects Part 4: Emotional Complications

26. Pseudobulbar Affect

Random bouts of laughter and/or crying may stem from a post stroke side effect known as emotional lability or pseudobulbar effect.

Learn more about pseudobulbar affect after stroke »

27. 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.

Learn more about personality changes after stroke »

28. 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.

Learn more about depression 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.

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See how Susan is recovering from post-stroke paralysis

“I had a stroke five years ago causing paralysis on my left side which remains today.

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At first it was difficult for me to be successful with a few of the exercises but the more I use it, the better my scores become.

I have recently had some movement in my left arm that I did not have before.

I don’t know if I can directly relate this to the use of the FitMi but I am not having occupational therapy so I conclude that it must be benefiting me.

The therapy modality motivates me to use it daily and challenges me to compete against my earlier scores.

I heartily recommend it!-Susan, stroke survivor

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