There is no doubt that a stroke can be devastating. Each year more than 795,000 people have a stroke and unfortunately more than 140,000 people will die as the result of a stroke, making strokes or "brain attacks" as they are also called, the third leading cause of death in the United States. And while most people who have a stroke do not die, there are some serious long term affects that can occur and they vary based upon the type of stroke that a person has.
A stroke occurs when blood flow is interrupted to the brain. There are two main types of strokes: Ischemic and Hemorrhagic. Ischemic strokes account for about 88 percent of all strokes and are caused by an abrupt blockage of a major artery in the brain. A hemorrhagic stroke accounts for about 12 percent of all strokes and is caused by the rupture of a blood vessel within the brain that allows blood to leak out into the space around the brain. The after effects of a stroke are greatly determined by the type of stroke a person has and the location in the brain where the stroke occurred.
Brain Stem Stroke
This type of stroke is particularly devastating because all of the brain's signals must pass through the brain stem to reach the rest of the body. Because of this, people who have a stroke that affects the brain stem may not survive the stroke, and if they do, they may suffer from any number of debilitating after effects, including:
- Motor function difficulties
- Difficulty speaking
- Difficulty hearing
- Vision problems, such as blurred vision or double vision
Because all of the motor signals from the brain must pass through the brain stem, more severe brain stem strokes can result in a patient becoming "locked in", which means that the patient has full cognitive function so he understands what is going on around him, but has no motor function and cannot interact normally. A person who is locked in can only move her eyes. Since the heart doesn't depend on the brain to beat, the heart will function normally, but she will require a ventilator to breath, and has no other control of bodily functions.
They key to recovery and minimizing the after effects of a brain stem stroke is early detection and treatment. Brain stem strokes can be difficult to diagnose, but if caught early enough, the effects can be minimal and the prognosis for recovery is good, although a person may require extensive physical and occupational therapy to regain his quality of life.
This cerebellar stroke affects the cerebellum of the brain. The cerebellum is the part of the brain that affects balance and coordination. Because this part of the brain controls these functions, the after effects can include:
- Abnormal reflexes, particularly in the head and torso
- Nausea and vomiting
- Problems with activities that require balance or coordination, such as walking
Many of the after effects of cerebellar stroke can be improved with rehabilitation therapies such as physical therapy or occupational therapy, but like many other conditions, this depends largely upon how early and aggressively the initial stroke was treated and the severity of the resulting damage.
Left Hemisphere Stroke
Just as the name implies, a left hemisphere stroke is a stroke that occurs in the left side of the brain. The left side of the brain affects movement on the right side of the body as well as speech and language abilities. Depending upon the severity of the stroke, a person may experience the following after effects:
- Paralysis on the right side of the body, known as right hemiplegia.
- A wide range of speech or language problems, collectively known as Aphasia. The problem is usually specific to a certain area of speech. For example, it may only affect a person's ability to use certain speech related muscles causing slurred words, but the rest of her speech and language abilities remain unimpaired.
- A slow or cautious behavioral style. The person may need frequent instructions and reinforcement to be able to complete tasks.
- Memory problems, specifically in retaining new information, learning new tasks and information, and problems with conceptualizing and generalizing.
After someone has suffered a stroke to the left hemisphere of the brain, she may require physical therapy to help restore movement to the right side of the body as well as occupational therapy to help the person learn how to live daily life with the after effects of the stroke. Those who have had a left hemisphere stroke may also require speech therapy to regain some of their speech ability.
Right Hemisphere Stroke
A right hemisphere stroke occurs in the right side of the brain and affects the ability to move the left side of the body. It also affects the person's ability to perform analytical and perceptual tasks such as judging speed, distance, size or position and seeing how parts of things fit together as a whole. Those who have had a right hemisphere stroke may experience the following after effects:
- Paralysis on the left side of the body, known as left side hemiplegia.
- Spatial or perceptual problems such as difficulty judging distances that can result in falls, inability to button clothing or tie shoes, problems picking up objects, or the inability to tell right-side up from upside-down when reading.
- Left side neglect, which comes from visual impairment. This may cause the stroke survivor to "forget" objects or people on her left side.
- Impulsive behavioral style, which can cause the stroke survivor to take unnecessary risks.
- Short term memory loss.
Those affected by a right hemisphere stroke may require physical and occupational therapy, but may also require much closer supervision then other types of stroke survivors, given the impulsive behavioral style that can result from damage to the right side of the brain.
Those who are concerned about their stroke risk should speak to their doctor immediately. There are things that can be done on a daily basis that can lower a person’s risk of having a stroke. Strokes are quite serious and can be devastating, and like many conditions, early detection and treatment are the keys to minimizing the after effects.