The physical effects
The long-term effects of stroke depend on the amount of brain tissue that has been lost and the area of the brain that has been affected. In addition to a high risk of stroke, people with AF experience more severe strokes and have a poorer prognosis after the event than people without AF. The effects of a stroke can vary greatly. Some of the most common effects of stroke are physical. You may experience muscle weakness, paralysis, stiffness, or changes in sensation, usually on one side of your body. These effects can make it harder to move some parts of your body, and you may struggle with everyday activities.
Each stroke survivor will have a different recovery experience. Understanding the nature of these effects and what can be done about them is the first step to recovery.
When part of the brain is damaged, messaging between the brain and muscles may not work properly. Paralysis or muscle weakness affects up to 90% of stroke survivors and can affect any part of the body. Many stroke survivors experience one of the following conditions: 58
- Hemiparesis – a movement impairment characterised by weakness or inability to move one side of the body
- Spasticity – a form of paralysis where the muscles are tight and stiff
- Aphasia - occurs when the language part of the brain is affected. Aphasia impairs the ability to use or understand words.
- Dysphagia – paralysis of the throat muscles, which may disrupt the swallowing process. This may affect the ability to take oral medication
- Vision loss – blind spots, also known as visual field loss, are common. An example of this is hemianopia, the loss of half of each eye’s field of vision.
- Visual perception problems – brain damage can lead to difficulties in perceiving and interpreting visual information in the brain. It leads to a hindered ability to make sense of information taken in through the eyes. This can lead to specific difficulties with practical, everyday tasks.
Stroke survivors may experience sleeping disorders. This may include changes in sleeping patterns, such as insomnia. One of the most common sleep-related issues after a stroke also includes breathing disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea.
Stroke is the most common cause of seizures in older people and can be characterised as spasms or convulsion.
This refers to a person’s ability to control their bladder or bowel movements. Incontinence affects 40–60% of people who have had a stroke. 57
Most strokes cause numbness. However, sometime this numbness is accompanied by a deep burning, pins and needles sensation, and often by muscle contractions. Proper treatment requires a doctor’s involvement and possibly an integrative treatment approach, which could mean combining prescription medicines with complementary medicine, such as physical therapy or massage.
Pain can occur right after, weeks or even months after a stroke. Research indicates that as many as 74 percent of stroke survivors face some form of pain. 59 In some cases, pain is constant (chronic). In others, it comes and goes.
Post-stroke fatigue, which occurs in 40–50% of survivors, is often confused with 'being tired' 60. It is not necessarily the same as tiredness, because it arrives without warning and rest does not always make it better. Post-stroke fatigue can occur over days, weeks, months or even years after a stroke, and is experienced differently by every individual. Fatigue can impact daily life and slow down recovery. Caregivers may need to be prepared to help stroke survivors manage their fatigue.
"Initially I was quite horrified, and then eventually I realised that it’s not a life sentence and there are treatments that can help"
"When I used to have a bath I had to wait for someone to be there, because of my risk of falling, now I have a wet room and it means I have my independence back"