Are my headaches and feeling like I can't breathe related to my stroke?

Tray987 asked...

In August 1998 I had a really bad heart attack and six-way bypass. I had another heart attack in 2000, and then about four weeks ago I had a stroke. Since then, I've had bad headaches and I feel like my air is being cut off and I can't stay awake. Are these problems related to my stroke?

Expert Answer

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

Headaches are somewhat of a rare complication of stroke - in my experience, more commonly seen with "bleeding" strokes than with "clotting" strokes.  When they occur, they can indicate swelling, bleeding, artery tearing, clotting in the veins, or a very tight (nearly occluded) artery.  Anytime someone has bad headaches after a stroke, I usually do a bit more investigation than normal, with detailed imaging of the arteries and veins (unless your doctor is already aware of a straightforward cause such as bleeding or swelling).

The air being cutoff is peculiar.  One possibility include weakness of the throat muscles, leading to aspiration of mouth fluids, and decreased oxygen levels.  Otherwise, this might be due to your heart not pumping blood out of the lungs efficiently enough - possibly from your heart attacks causing weakening of the heart muscles, or a medication side effect.

Sleepiness after stroke also has a braod variety of causes - anything from the common lethargy that happens to most stroke victims, depression, a stroke in the "waking centers" of the brain, or a side effect to medicine.

Unfortunately, your symptoms sound quite complex - a bit too complex to accurately diagnose without a throrough evaluation.  I would suggest going to see your doctor as well as a stroke specialist to help get to the bottom of these symptoms - to make sure everything is ok.