A stroke may lead to muscle and coordination difficulties, swallowing and digestive problems, or changes to mood and memory. Stroke rehabilitation can often help ease complications.

A stroke is a major disruption of blood flow to a particular region of the brain. Complications you may experience after a stroke depend on the area of the brain affected and how long blood flow was disrupted.

Since your brain controls almost every body function, several post-stroke complications are possible. Here are some of the more common complications of stroke and how to treat and manage them.

Stroke can often cause muscle weakness and paralysis, typically on one side of your body. Known as hemiparesis, this complication can cause difficulties with walking, balance, gripping, and using your hands for other precise movements.

Treatment to regain all or part of your muscle strength and coordination may include:

  • cortical stimulation, in which electrodes on the dura (the tough covering around the brain) are stimulated during rehabilitation exercise
  • electrical stimulation
  • modified constraint-induced therapy, which forces you to use the affected muscles to help repair nerve damage

Assistive devices, including walkers, canes, and braces, can also help stroke survivors improve muscle strength and function.

A stroke that affects the left side of your brain can damage your speech and language centers. This condition is called aphasia, which can make it difficult to speak, write, or understand the spoken or written word.

In some cases, post-stroke speech problems result from damage to the tongue or the larynx (voice box) and do not involve problems with language or perception.

Speech and language therapy can help address specific challenges.

About 65% of people who have had a stroke have some vision problems, according to the American Stroke Association. Complications may include:

Potential treatments for post-stroke visual complications include:

  • vision therapy, like scanning
  • prisms to add to existing glasses, changing the way images appear in your field of vision
  • physical and occupational therapy

In some cases, partial vision loss is reversible, though most people cannot fully recover.

The United Kingdom’s Stroke Association reports that about 50% of people initially have some degree of dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) after a stroke. Dysphagia can lead to further complications, such as malnutrition and aspiration.

Aspiration is when food or fluids travel down the airways and into the lungs instead of the esophagus and into the stomach. Research indicates that aspiration is a leading cause of pneumonia among stroke survivors.

Speech and language therapists can help improve your ability to swallow after a stroke.

Post-stroke memory loss can affect the following types of memory:

  • informational: trouble recalling facts and skills and difficulty learning new information
  • verbal: difficulty recalling names and information related to language and vocabulary
  • visual: trouble identifying faces, shapes, and other objects

Problems with decision-making, attention, and other thinking skills may also develop.

Memory problems may resolve on their own or through rehab in the first few months after a stroke. However, some memory loss and cognitive difficulties may be permanent.

Stroke also increases your risk of vascular dementia.

Depressive symptoms often develop after a stroke. Fear about what the future holds for you and your loved ones can lead to feelings of hopelessness and sadness. These feelings can sometimes worsen over time as the long-term realities of stroke complications settle in.

A 2018 study suggests that about half of all people who have had a stroke experience some chronic disability, which can also affect a person’s psychological outlook.

Mental health counseling and participating in a stroke support group — either in person or online — may help you and your caregivers develop effective coping strategies and ease some symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Pneumonia can develop after extensive bed rest and limited movement. A stroke can affect lung function, making it more difficult to clear your airways of mucus or irritants.

If dysphagia is present, you may be more likely to allow fluids or food particles to enter the lungs, increasing your risk of pneumonia.

Doctors may recommend the following to manage or lower your risk of pneumonia after a stroke:

A 2017 research review indicated that about 1 in 5 people with stroke develop a urinary tract infection (UTI). This often occurs after prolonged use of a catheter during a hospital stay.

A doctor may prescribe antibiotics to help treat or prevent post-stroke UTIs.

A stroke can lead to uncomfortable and frustrating complications such as:

A 2019 review suggests that special attention to treating bowel and bladder function early after a stroke can help improve your quality of life.

There’s no way to know exactly which complications will follow a stroke. Participating in a stroke rehabilitation program can help reduce the effects of complications or help you recover more quickly.

Taking steps to improve your cardiovascular health is also important. It may help limit the effects of complications and may help you prevent a future stroke.

How can I prevent a secondary stroke?

Experts recommend the following actions to help prevent an initial or a secondary stroke:

  • Eat a heart-healthy diet, such as following the Mediterranean or DASH diet.
  • Stay physically active most — if not all — days of the week.
  • Aim for 7–9 hours of sleep each night.
  • Keep blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels in healthy ranges.
  • Limit alcohol consumption if you drink.
  • Manage stress.
  • Quit smoking if you do.
  • Talk with a doctor about taking aspirin or cholesterol-lowering medications.
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What is the most common complication of stroke?

Changes in muscle and organ function are among the most common complications after a stroke. However, a 2022 study suggests that post-stroke depression is the most common complication that significantly diminishes quality of life.

What happens in the first 3 days after a stroke?

If the stroke is severe, you may spend the first few days, or longer, in intensive care or acute care. If you are stable, many hospitals and stroke centers typically begin rehabilitation within 24 hours after a stroke.

During those first 3 days, your healthcare team will determine the type of stroke and severity of damage. They will also begin developing short- and long-term treatment plans.

What is the average life expectancy after a stroke?

Life expectancy after a stroke depends on many factors, including your age and the type and severity of the stroke. Survival rates tend to be higher among people who had an ischemic stroke compared with those who had a hemorrhagic stroke. A 2022 study suggests that, on average, a stroke reduces life expectancy by about 5.5 years.

What are the long-term effects of stroke?

Long-term effects of stroke can include difficulty with walking, fine motor skills, swallowing, and speech. Memory problems, especially related to learning and short-term memory, may also linger. Mood swings, symptoms of depression, and personality changes can progress over time, but counseling may help.

Stroke recovery isn’t always easy to predict. Setbacks after weeks or months of improvement may occur. New complications that weren’t present or were very minor immediately after a stroke may also develop.

Some people experience moments of spontaneous temporary recovery, especially in the early months. You may also experience steady improvement through stroke rehabilitation and a long-term commitment to exercises and behaviors designed to help you recover and manage complications.