Stroke - Complications 

Complications of stroke 

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

Dysphagia

The damage caused by a stroke can interrupt your normal swallowing reflex, making it possible for small particles of food to enter your respiratory tract (windpipe).

Problems with swallowing are known as dysphagia. 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. About 10% of people who experience a haemorrhagic stroke will develop hydrocephalus.

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. Symptoms include:

  • headaches 
  • sickness and vomiting 
  • loss of balance

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

Deep vein thrombosis

Around 5% of 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 it is felt that 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.

Page last reviewed: 29/08/2012

Next review due: 29/08/2014

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