Hemiparesis is the medical term for weakness on one side of the body. It is an early sign of stroke and transient ischemic attacks (TIAs). Hemiparesis may also become a long-term complication of a stroke.

Hemiparesis may affect every area of life, from walking to eating to dressing. Recovery may take weeks or months and often requires a multidisciplinary approach.

Signs and symptoms of hemiparesis may include:

  • difficulty walking and standing
  • loss of balance and coordination
  • numbness or tingling on one side of the body
  • weakness in one arm or leg
  • weakness in one side of the face that causes drooping of an eyelid or corner of the mouth
  • numbness or weakness in the tongue that interferes with speech and swallowing
  • asymmetry in one side of the body (e.g. lifting both arms and having one of them not come all the way up)

It is possible to have hemiparesis on both sides of your body if you had two or more strokes affecting different regions of the brain. If you had one stroke only, you would experience hemiparesis on one side only. You could also have a spinal stroke, which may lead to full paralysis or weakness.

Hemiparesis can sometimes be confused with hemiplegia. Both may occur after a stroke. Hemiplegia, however, is paralysis on one side of the body. You may not be able to move one side of the body at all and could also lose bladder control. Hemiparesis, on the other hand, involves weakness rather than paralysis.

Learn more about the differences between hemiparesis and hemiplegia.

A stroke is a medical emergency

If you experience sudden hemiparesis, you may be having a stroke or a TIA. Urgent medical care as soon as you experience the first symptoms is essential to improve outcomes.

Learn more about the signs of stroke.

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Hemiparesis is an early sign of a stroke and a TIA. Interruption of blood flow to a region of the brain causes hemiparesis.

If you experience hemiparesis as a result of a transient ischemic attack, the symptoms will improve within minutes to hours. If you have a stroke, only urgent medical care can help resolve hemiparesis. Depending on how long blood flow was interrupted, hemiparesis may become permanent after a stroke.

Other possible causes of hemiparesis include:

Hemiparesis may be ipsilateral (weakness on the same side of the brain damage) or contralateral (weakness on the opposite side of the brain damage).

Learn more about the differences between a stroke and a TIA.

Hemiparesis as a sign of a TIA will resolve when the blood flow is restored on its own. Stroke-related hemiparesis will require treatment for the stroke first.

If hemiparesis persists after the stroke, treatment may require a comprehensive approach. Depending on the severity of the symptoms and your individual needs, the treatment plan may include a combination of:

Read more about stroke management options.

Some treatment options that are specific for hemiparesis recovery include:

Modified constraint-induced movement therapy (mCIMT)

In this therapy, your stronger side of the body is slightly restrained, forcing your weaker side to compensate.

mCIMT helps strengthen muscles in your weaker side and improves limb function.

Electrical stimulation

During electrical stimulation therapy, a physical or occupational professional attaches small electrical pads to your affected extremities. They send small electrical charges through the pads to make your muscles contract. Over time, this therapy can train your muscles to become stronger again.

Mental imagery

A mental or occupational therapist may use visualization strategies to help stimulate some parts of your brain. For example, you may visualize using your affected side of the body to “remind” your brain how it feels.

An older literature review on mental imagery for hemiparesis found the treatment to be effective for regaining arm strength when combined with other therapies. Researchers noted that mental imagery may be less effective for regaining strength and mobility related to gait, however.

More studies are needed to determine how effective the technique is.

It is possible to recover from hemiparesis, but results may depend on how severe the brain damage is.

“Full recovery can take weeks, months, or even years, but regular rehabilitation exercises and therapy can help accelerate recovery,” says Dr. Cindy Cooke, president of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners.

Starting physical rehabilitation early in the recovery process may improve your outcome.

Learn more about the stroke recovery process.

Hemiparesis refers to muscular weakness caused by brain damage. It may be on one side or both sides of the body and affect the face and extremities.

The most common cause of hemiparesis is a stroke. In fact, weakness on one side of the face and body is a common early sign of a stroke. In some cases, it may persist after the cerebrovascular accident.

Recovery is possible, although it may take weeks or months and may require a multidisciplinary approach.