Can damaged brain cells from a stroke take over healthy cells over time?

2 answers | Last updated: Nov 18, 2016
Caregiver asked...

Can damaged brain cells from a stroke take over healthy cells over time? My mother had a stroke almost 5 years ago and has now seemed to loose some bladder control. Could she have lost the knowledge on how to go to the bathroom? The stroke affected her left side and she is now unable to talk. Thank you

Expert Answers

James Castle, M.D. is a neurologist at NorthShore University HealthSystem (affiliated with The University of Chicago) and an expert on strokes.

The basic answer to this question is no. A stroke causes brain damage, but that damage should be limited to the cells that are affected by the event itself. A stroke should never grow in size over several years. It sounds like something else is happening.

I would guess that your mother has one of a few things going on. The first possibility is that she is having additional, smaller strokes. In my experience, after looking at brain scans on many patients, a “symptomatic” stroke, such as the one your mother had 5 years ago, is really only the tip of the iceberg for a larger number of smaller “asymptomatic” strokes that happen much more frequently due to small cholesterol plaques and aging of the arteries. These add up over the years to cause an overall decline in brain function. These may have contributed to some of her new symptoms. Another possibility is that she is having an overall decline from a different brain disease altogether, such as dementia. Finally, she may be having general medical problems which are affecting her brain, and making it more difficult for the healthy brain tissue to help out the damaged cells. 

I would strongly encourage a check-up with her doctor, or a referral to a neurologist, for additional scanning and some basic blood tests. 

Community Answers

Bc41129 answered...

This is what happened to my mother as well. I could see the change in her from year to year. They at first thought mom would get better but, instead she got worse. She was still having small strokes which took more and more of mom away. Most people didn't notice the changes but, me being so, close to mom I could see the many changes happen. Little things but, they were happening all along for the 6 years she lived after her stroke. She had a massive stroke and never regained anything. She just kept losing more and more of her abilities. Then one night she went to sleep and never woke up. We believe she had another stroke during the night and that took mom home to Jesus. Amen