When blood is unable to reach the brain for any reason, it is called a stroke. The lack of blood causes the brain to shut down. If the brain goes without blood for even a short amount of time, cells in the brain may be damaged, or even destroyed. This damage can cause many different challenges for stroke patients.
There are two types of strokes. The first type is caused by a blockage in the vein or capillaries near the brain, caused by an air bubble, clotted blood, or fat globule. Blood cannot get around the clot, and is unable to reach the brain. In the second type, called a bleed, happens when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, causing hemorrhaging. Because the blood isn't traveling all the way through the brain, damage occurs.
Muscle weakness, or even paralysis, is one of the most common difficulties stroke patients face. It often affects just one side of the body, depending on where in the brain the stroke occurred. Arm and leg weakness can be made worse by stiffness in the joints. This muscle weakness can also affect a person's ability to swallow, which can be dangerous. Brain damage caused by a stroke may also cause balancing difficulty, either due to muscle weakness or the brain damage itself.
Another challenge for stroke patients is confusion or mental impairment. They may have a difficult time speaking or comprehending what others are saying to them. Stroke patients may also have difficulty with recalling words and naming objects that are familiar to them. It may take them a long time to find the words they want to use. This is called dysphasia, which is also sometimes called aphasia. This can cause problems not only with listening and speaking, but also with reading and writing.
Stroke victims may also have vision problems. Their eyesight might be worse than it previously was, or they may have double vision or a loss of peripheral vision. This may cause problems with depth perception and balance. Other problems that stroke patients face include a loss of bladder and bowel control, mood swings, an increase or decrease in sensitivity, pain, and slower mental processing time.
Recovering from a stroke takes time. While some patients see improvements in their ability to function within a few weeks, some people will have permanent disabilities. The extent of damages depends on what parts of the brain were without blood, and for how long. Physical therapy can help stroke victims to regain use of their arms and legs, while speech therapy can help them to improve their ability to speak clearly and to understand what is being said to them. Although not all stroke patients will regain all of their previous abilities, most will still be able to walk and communicate after extensive therapy and a lot of hard work.