How does a stroke affect the brain?

Written by josh baum
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How does a stroke affect the brain?
(Photo courtesy of Brain Waves LLC)

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What Happens During a Stroke

A stroke, one of the leading causes of death in the United States, occurs when a blood clot or burst blood vessel creates a disruption in blood flow in the brain. This type of disruption can occur anywhere in the brain, after which blood flow to certain areas of the brain may be stopped or restricted. This causes rapid brain cell death, and the ultimate effects on the brain and the functions of the body depend on where the stroke occurred and how severe it was.

Affects on Movement and Motor Skills

Each side of the brain controls the opposite side of the body, so strokes in the right hemisphere frequently result in partial or complete paralysis of the left side of the body, and vice versa. Damage to the parietal lobe can disrupt coordination between the arms and legs, but since strokes tend to develop on one side of the brain, this may affect only one side of the body. Strokes that develop in the motor cortex may lead to partial facial paralysis.

Right Hemisphere Damage

Stroke victims with right hemisphere brain damage may experience poor depth perception, hand-eye coordination and short term memory. They may also exhibit impulsiveness, poor decision making and unhealthy habits. Since this part of the brain controls judgment, logic and reasoning capabilities, right hemisphere strokes can cause adults to act in a way that others might find immature, illogical or unusual.

Left Hemisphere Damage

A stroke on the left side of the brain can lead to a variety of speech and reading disorders, ranging from slightly slurred speech to total illiteracy. Left brain strokes also reflect the inverse of right brain strokes in that they tend to make their victims overly cautious and slow to act. Shortened attention spans have also been reported among many left brain stroke sufferers.

Other Areas of the Brain

Other specific areas of the brain that experience strokes may lead to more specific and acute disability.

Strokes that occur in Wernicke's area, the central speech processing centre of the brain, usually lead to slurred speech and diminished comprehension. Reading is often more challenging for these victims, as is recalling the names of familiar people, places and objects.

Brainstem strokes are often terminal because signals for the body's involuntary functions originate here. Victims may stop breathing or their heart may simply stop pumping. Those who suffer severe brainstem strokes and manage to survive are often fully paralysed.

Cerebellum strokes tend to cause severe sensations of imbalance, dizziness and lack of coordination. Sufferers of these strokes often have trouble walking and climbing stairs, are prone to motion sickness and may have dulled reflexes to pain and pressure.

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