Stroke Chapter 9

Life After Stroke

Complications of Stroke

The complications of stroke can be severe and include:

  • Paralysis or loss of muscle movement
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control
  • Memory loss or troubles with understanding
  • Pain or numbness
  • Herniation. The brain may swell, forcing it down in the skull and through the rigid structures that separate the brain into compartments. This affects the respiratory center in the lower part of the brain stem, and can cause irregular breathing, coma, and even death.

Further complications of stroke

The physical problems caused by a stroke can lead to more complications:

  • Lack of movement can lead to pressure sores, loss of muscle tone, and blood clots that form in the legs and groin and travel to the lungs.
  • Difficulty swallowing can cause the person who's had a stroke to inhale food and fluids, which can cause aspirational pneumonia. Difficulty eating and drinking can also lead to malnutrition and dehydration.
  • Lack of bladder control can lead to urinary tract infections.


How quickly someone recovers from stroke depends on many factors, including the location of the stroke in the brain and the amount of damage it did, the person's age, and if there are other disorders present. When pressure from bleeding is relieved, some function may be regained. The patient may recover from some of the effects of stroke in the weeks and months following the event, because brain cells that were only stressed, not killed, can recover. And the brain is a versatile and adaptable organ: a different area of the brain can sometimes learn to do the function previously performed by the damaged area.

But many of the early effects of the stroke, including paralysis, can become permanent. There may be problems with memory, thinking clearly, and learning. The person who had the stroke may become depressed or have difficulty controlling his or her emotions. Muscles that aren't used become permanently stiff and may produce painful muscle spasms. Walking, swallowing, speaking, and performing daily activities may continue to be difficult to do, and there may be problems with bowel or bladder control.


The goal of rehabilitation is to help patients to recover as much of their independence as possible. They'll probably need to relearn skills they may have lost, like walking and speaking. Because they may experience frustration, depression, or apathy, mental and emotional therapy is also an important part of post-stroke rehab.

Depending on patient needs, stroke rehabilitation can take place in a number of different settings, including hospitals, long-term care facilities, outpatient facilities, and the patient's own home. The services of any or all of the following specialists may be required:

  • Rehabilitation doctor
  • Nurse
  • Physical therapist
  • Occupational therapist
  • Speech therapist
  • Recreational therapist
  • Social worker
  • Mental health professional
  • Dietitian
  • Clergyman

Prevention and Healthy Lifestyle

There's good news about stroke. A large, 2008 study found that people who follow a low-risk lifestyle have a hugely reduced chance of having either an ischemic or a hemorrhagic stroke. The low-risk lifestyle included:

  • No smoking
  • Keeping weight right
  • Moderate-to-vigorous activity for 30 minutes or more a day
  • A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fiber, nuts, legumes, and lean protein
  • Moderate alcohol intake

If you follow these guidelines, you'll probably find that the benefits of living a healthy, low-risk lifestyle carry over into other areas of your life as well, because you'll have more energy, sleep better, and enjoy life more.

Wheelchair Photo, Copyright 2007, Peter Morgan

More on this topic

What Is Stroke? (VIDEO)

Your Brain Needs Oxygen

Clogged Carotids

Degree of Blockage

Types of Stroke

Risk Factors

Symptoms, Test & Diagnosis

Treating Stroke

Life After Stroke

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Aneurysm and Stent, Angioplasty, Arrhythmia, Cardiovascular Continuum, Cholesterol and Atherosclerosis, Coronary Bypass Surgery, Heart Attack and Angina, Hypertension, Stroke, Thrombosis and Embolism, Women and Cardiovascular Health

The material on this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Consult a licensed medical professional for the diagnosis and treatment of all medical conditions and before starting a new diet or exercise program. If you have a medical emergency, call 911 immediately.