Dr. List listening to a patient's heartbeat

Left Hemisphere Stroke vs. Right Hemisphere Stroke: What’s the Difference?

The human brain is a highly complex organ, one responsible for so much more than an individual’s thoughts, imagination and personality — our brains control everything, including the senses, speech, motion, body temperature and heart rate.

The brain is divided into two sides — the right and the left hemispheres — with multiple folds and lobes, each responsible for a unique set of abilities. Generally speaking, the brain is divided into two sides —. However, even as a complex body organ, the brain is susceptible to conditions such as stroke and Transient Ischemic Attacks, brain cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease and more.

When it comes to a stroke, symptoms and effects can vary depending upon whether the stroke happens in the left or right hemisphere. Where in the brain a stroke occurs can also affect the manner of treatment, as well, making it important to learn the differences.

What is a stroke?

A stroke is a condition that occurs when blood flow in part of the body — most classically in the brain — faces a blockage, due to either a burst artery that causes internal bleeding (hemorrhagic stroke), or a clogged artery (ischemic stroke). A stroke is considered a critical medical emergency, since it deprives the brain cells of oxygen-rich blood, which can cause them to begin to die within a very short time span.

Doctors can attempt to restore blood to the affected area of the brain through surgery or clot-busting drugs. Consequently, the patient can sometimes begin stroke rehabilitation immediately to help restore lost or impaired brain functions, and address related issues, such as reduced motor skills or speech fluency.

The differences between left brain stroke and right brain stroke

The terms right brain stroke and left brain stroke refer to the side of the brain in which the stroke-causing blockage occurs. Both brain sides control important functions. Therefore, a stroke in either hemisphere can be seriously debilitating, or even fatal, though most people survive a first stroke, provided they get the best medical care possibly immediately following its onset.

In comparison, left-brain strokes occur more often, and are more easily recognized, than right-brain strokes. A right-brain stroke can also present with multiple visible symptoms, however. Noticeable symptoms that affect the left side of the body, for example, are symptoms of a right-brain stroke, since the brain’s right hemisphere controls the opposite side of the body.

Each side of the brain is responsible for maintaining a particular set of functions. For instance, as previously stated, the right hemisphere controls movement on the body’s left side. The right hemisphere also handles an individual’s sense of their position in space (and other perception in three dimensions), awareness and consideration of music and art, imagination, intuition, insight and holistic thinking.

On the other hand, the left hemisphere controls more logical and critical thinking and reasoning — like math, science and other number skills — as well as writing and language comprehension. Following the pattern set by the right hemisphere, the left side or the brain controls movement of the right side of a person’s body, too.

It’s easy to see how the results and disabilities of a stroke would depend on which side of the human brain is affected.

Left hemisphere stroke symptoms & effects

Left-brain stroke symptoms include:

  • Weakness or paralysis to the body’s right side
  • Speaking and language difficulties
  • Visual impairment
  • Swallowing challenges/facial weakness
  • Slow, cautious behavior
  • Varying levels of cognitive impairments

Effects of a left hemisphere stroke include:

  • Hemiplegia/hemiparesis: A left-brain stroke often results in impaired strength on the body’s right side.
  • Aphasia: Left-hemisphere stroke survivors may experience language impairment and difficulties.
  • Apraxia of speech: Apraxia is a condition making it difficult to engage the muscles in and around one’s mouth that help form recognizable speech.
  • Dysphagia: Left-sided stroke survivors may also experience difficulty in swallowing
  • Cognitive impairments: The left-hemisphere stroke specifically may cause a deficit in memory or problem-solving ability. It may also cause impairments in one’s verbal working memory (VBM), which presents as difficulty with short-term memory or immediately processing new verbal information.
  • Visual loss: on one side, particularly in the right eye. (homonymous hemianopia).

Right hemisphere stroke symptoms & effects

When the opposite side of the brain suffers a stroke, the symptoms may be slightly different. Here are some possible symptoms of a stroke in the right side or the brain:

  • Sudden outbursts of emotion
  • Memory loss
  • Facial weakness
  • Poor decision making
  • Possible paralysis on the body’s left side
  • Quick, overly curious behavior

Effects of a right hemisphere stroke can include:

  • Hemiplegia/hemiparesis: Right-brain stroke causes weakness or paralysis on the body’s left side
  • Prosopagnosia: This condition describes a difficulty in recognizing faces.
  • Left neglect: Right-brain stroke survivors can experience an unawareness of the left side of their environment.
  • Homonymous Hemianopia: A stroke sufferer only sees one-half of their expected field of vision in each eye simultaneously.
  • Anosognosia: Damage to the parietal lobe in the brain’s right hemisphere could result in neglect or denial of disability.
  • Pseudobulbar effect: Sudden, uncontrollable outbursts of laughing or crying.

Stroke treatment and recovery

There are several types and modes of treatment to mitigate and recover from the effects of a stroke. Immediate treatments for the first stroke symptoms to present might include fluid management, or the use of blood thinners or medication to regulate blood pressure.

However, required treatment for a debilitating stroke typically involves rehabilitation and physical therapy after the acute stage of the stroke itself — the “attack” on the left or right hemisphere — has passed. Recovery modalities may include cognitive therapy, speech and swallow therapy, occupational therapy, or other specialized protocols to maximize movement, independence and self-care.

Types of stroke rehabilitation specialists

Stroke rehabilitation is often a team effort, requiring a number of therapists working in various specialized fields to develop a multifaceted approach to recovery. The human brain is an incredibly complex organ, and it may take many medical professionals working together to rehabilitate a stroke victim, including:

  • Physiatrists: These are medical doctors specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation, including spine problems and pain management.
  • Physical therapists: They help stroke patients regain strength and mobility. Physical therapists help patients learn how to move using canes, crutches, or walkers as they move through their rehabilitation.
  • Occupational therapists: They teach stroke patients how to modify their workplace and home environments for safe and effective mobility.
  • Speech-language pathologists: These specialists assist stroke survivors and their family members in dealing with speech, language, and cognitive impairments.
  • Prosthetists and orthotists: A prosthetist specializes in fabricating artificial limbs, while an orthotist specializes in fabricating devices. Such fabrications help to support or control certain body parts, such as arms or legs, affected by a stroke in either of the brain’s hemispheres.

The rehabilitation process must start as soon as possible for stroke survivors to begin noticing positive changes. Despite the severity of a stroke’s effects, the brain has impressive neuroplasticity, or ability to adapt to changes. Repetition of targeted rehabilitation exercises sparks neuroplasticity, and the brain begins a self-healing “rewiring” process.

Varying rehabilitation programs conducted by highly trained and qualified rehab specialists helps stroke survivors start their recovery, manage the condition comfortably, and achieve optimal outcomes.

Brooks Rehabilitation: The leading experts in stroke treatment, recovery and rehab

Experienced, caring stroke rehab specialists can make the difference between progressive, achievable stroke recovery, and no recovery at all. Brooks Rehabilitation is a Florida-based rehabilitation center staffed by differently skilled and expert specialists with experience in stroke recovery and multiple other rehabilitative programs.

Contact Brooks Rehabilitation today for more information on our stroke rehabilitation and recovery services.

Translate »