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Complications of a stroke

There are complications that can arise as a result of a stroke, many of which are potentially life-threatening.

Aspiration pneumonia

The damage caused by a stroke can interrupt your normal swallowing or gag reflex. This is known as dysphagia, and makes it possible for small particles of food or fluid to be inhaled into your airways and lungs instead of being swallowed and proceeding down your oesophagus into your stomach.

Dysphagia can lead to damage to your lungs, which can trigger a lung infection (pneumonia).

To prevent any complications from dysphagia, you may be fed using a feeding tube. The tube is usually put into your nose and then passed into your stomach, but it may be directly connected to your stomach during surgery.

How long you will need a feeding tube can vary from a few weeks to a few months, but it is rare to have to use a tube for more than six months.

Hydrocephalus

Hydrocephalus is a condition that occurs when there is too much cerebrospinal fluid in the cavities (ventricles) of the brain.

Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is produced in the brain to protect it and the spinal cord, and carry away waste from brain cells. CSF flows continuously through the ventricles and over the surface of the brain and spinal cord. Any excess CSF usually drains away from the brain and is absorbed by the body.

Damage caused by a haemorrhagic stroke can stop the CSF from draining, and an excess of fluid can build up. Hydrocephalus symptoms include:

Hydrocephalus can be treated by placing a tube into the brain to allow the fluid to drain properly.

Deep vein thrombosis

Some people who have had a stroke will experience a further blood clot in their leg, known as 'deep vein thrombosis' (DVT).

This normally occurs in people who have lost some or all of the movement in their leg, as immobility will slow the blood flow in their veins, increasing blood pressure and the chances of a blood clot.

Symptoms of DVT include:

  • swelling 
  • pain
  • warm skin 
  • tenderness 
  • redness, particularly at the back of the leg, below the knee.

If you have DVT, prompt treatment is required because there is a chance the clot may move into your lungs, which is known as a 'pulmonary embolism' and can be fatal.

DVT can be treated using anti-clotting medicines. If you are at risk of DVT, your stroke team may recommend you wear a compression stocking. This is a specially designed stocking that can reduce the blood pressure in your legs.

Sources: NHS Choices, UK (Stroke - Complications)

Not sure what to do next?

If you are still concerned about your complications of a stroke, why not use healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

Last reviewed: July 2015

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