Effects of a Stroke

The brain is the most complex organ in the human body. It is the seat of intelligence, interpreter of the senses, initiator of all movement, and the controller of behavior. How a stroke affects us depends on which part of the brain is damaged.

Stroke damage in the brain can affect the entire body -- resulting in mild to severe disabilities. These include paralysis, problems with thinking, trouble speaking, and emotional problems.

Movement Problems

A common disability that results from stroke is complete paralysis on one side of the body, called hemiplegia. A related disability that is not as debilitating as paralysis is one-sided weakness, or hemiparesis. The paralysis or weakness may affect only the face, an arm, or a leg, or it may affect one entire side of the body and face.

A stroke patient may have problems with the simplest of daily activities, such as walking, dressing, eating, and using the bathroom. Movement problems can result from damage to the part of the brain that controls balance and coordination. Some stroke patients also have trouble swallowing, called dysphagia.

Thinking Problems

Stroke may cause problems with thinking, awareness, attention, learning, judgment, and memory.

In some cases of stroke, the patient suffers a "neglect" syndrome. The neglect syndrome means that the stroke patient has no knowledge of one side of his or her body, or one side of the visual field, and is unaware of the problem. A stroke patient may be unaware of his or her surroundings, or may be unaware of the mental problems that resulted from the stroke.

Speech Problems

Stroke victims often have a problem forming or understanding speech. This problem is called aphasia. Aphasia usually occurs along with similar problems in reading and writing. In most people, language problems result from damage to the left hemisphere of the brain.

Slurred speech due to weakness or incoordination of the muscles involved in speaking is called dysarthria, and is not a problem with language. Because it can result from any weakness or incoordination of the speech muscles, dysarthria can arise from damage to either side of the brain.

Emotional Problems

A stroke can also lead to emotional problems. Stroke patients may have difficulty controlling their emotions or may express inappropriate emotions in certain situations. One common disability that occurs with many stroke patients is depression.

Post-stroke depression may be more than a general sadness resulting from the stroke incident. It is a serious behavioral problem that can hamper recovery and rehabilitation and may even lead to suicide. Post-stroke depression is treated as any depression is treated, with antidepressant medications and therapy.

Stroke patients may experience pain, uncomfortable numbness, or strange sensations after a stroke. These sensations may be due to many factors, including damage to the sensory regions of the brain, stiff joints, or a disabled limb.


An uncommon type of pain resulting from stroke is called central stroke pain or central pain syndrome or CPS. CPS results from damage to an area called the thalamus. The pain is a mixture of sensations, including heat and cold, burning, tingling, numbness, and sharp stabbing and underlying aching pain.

The pain is often worse in the hands and feet and is made worse by movement and temperature changes, especially cold temperatures. Unfortunately, since most pain medications provide little relief from these sensations, very few treatments or therapies exist to combat CPS.

Brain Stem Stroke

The brain stem controls vital bodily functions such as breathing, blood pressure and heartbeat. A stroke in the brain stem can be fatal or can leave someone in a “locked-in” state in which the person cannot control anything below the neck. As with other types of stroke, early treatment is crucial.