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The effects of stroke (brain attack) vary from person to person based on the type, severity, and location of the stroke. The brain is extremely complex and each area of the brain is responsible for a special function or ability. When an area of the brain is damaged, which typically occurs with a stroke, an impairment may result. An impairment is the loss of normal function of part of the body. Sometimes, an impairment may result in a disability, or inability to perform an activity in a normal way.
The brain is divided into three main areas:
Cerebrum (consisting of the right and left sides or hemispheres)
Depending on which of these regions of the brain the stroke occurs, the effects may be very different.
The cerebrum is the part of the brain that occupies the top and front portions of the skull. It is responsible for control of abilities, such as movement and sensation, speech, thinking, reasoning, memory, sexual function, and regulation of emotions. The cerebrum is divided into the right and left sides, or hemispheres.
Depending on the area and side of the cerebrum affected by the stroke, any, or all, of the following body functions may be impaired:
Movement and sensation
Speech and language
Eating and swallowing
Cognitive (thinking, reasoning, judgment and memory) ability
Perception and orientation to surroundings
Bowel and bladder control
In addition to these general effects, some specific impairments may occur when a particular area of the cerebrum is damaged.
The effects of a right hemisphere stroke may include the following:
Left-sided weakness (left hemiparesis) or paralysis (left hemiplegia) and sensory impairment
Denial of paralysis or impairment and reduced insight into the problems created by the stroke (this is called "left neglect")
Visual problems, including an inability to see the left visual field of each eye (homonymous hemianopsia)
Spatial problems with depth perception or directions, such as up/down and front/back
Inability to localize or recognize body parts
Inability to understand maps and find objects such as clothing or toiletry items
Behavioral changes such as lack of concern about situations, impulsivity, inappropriateness, and depression
The effects of a left hemisphere stroke may include the following:
Right-sided weakness (right hemiparesis) or paralysis (right hemiplegia) and sensory impairment
Problems with speech and understanding language (aphasia)
Visual problems, including the inability to see the right visual field of each eye (homonymous hemianopsia)
Impaired ability to do math or to organize, reason, and analyze items
Behavioral changes such as depression, cautiousness, and hesitancy
Impaired ability to read, write, and learn new information
The cerebellum is located beneath and behind the cerebrum towards the back of the skull. It receives sensory information from the body through the spinal cord and helps to coordinate muscle action and control, fine movement, coordination, and balance.
Although strokes are less common in the cerebellum area, the effects can be severe. Four common effects of strokes in the cerebellum include:
Inability to walk and problems with coordination and balance (ataxia)
Nausea and vomiting
The brain stem is located at the very base of the brain right above the spinal cord. Many of the body's vital "life-support" functions such as heartbeat, blood pressure, and breathing are controlled by the brain stem. It also helps to control the main nerves involved with eye movement, hearing, speech, chewing, and swallowing. Some common effects of a stroke in the brain stem include problems with the following:
Breathing and heart functions
Body temperature control
Balance and coordination
Weakness or paralysis in all four limbs
Chewing, swallowing, and speaking
Unfortunately, death is common with brain stem strokes.