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Why is my father's leg swelling after a stroke?

11 answers | Last updated: Mar 27, 2015
An anonymous caregiver asked...

My father suffered a massive stroke on his left side thirteen days ago. He is 69 years old. He has no ability to swallow or to speak. Also his left leg is beginning to swell. Do you think he would pull through this? And also what do you think is causing the swelling in his leg?


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

Very sorry to hear about your father. It sounds like he had a large stroke. Unfortunately, predicting recovery from a stroke is very difficult - notoriously innacurate. Since he is See also:
Is swelling normal after a stroke?

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13 days out from the stroke, it would unlikely that he will get any worse at this point, but how much he improves is near impossible to say.

I frequently compare our ability to prognosticate recovery after a stroke to other scientific fields such as predicting the weather or predicting economic trends - we simply are not good at it. All I can tell you is that I have seen people in his condition do very well - improving enough to walk, eat, speak. I have also seen people make little to no improvement. It would be helpful to chart his progress with a diary. You should expect to see a fairly steady rate of improvement for about 3 months, then the improvement slows down for another 3 months, and then typically by 6 months there is little to no improvement thereafter.

The best thing for you to do is encuorage him, be with him, and work extra hard with him on trying to recover the function that he has lost.

With regards to the swelling, in my experience this is usually caused by a lack of vascular tone in the affected limb, causing leakage of fluid into the soft tissue. The best way to treat this is with mobilization of the leg, elevating it above the level of the heart when he is sitting or lying, and using compression stockings to push the fluid out. The one thing that you must be sure about, however, and you must check with his doctor about, is whether a clot in the veins of the leg has been excluded. If he was immobile for long enough, a clot could form in that leg and cause swelling. That is a dangerous possibility. An ultrasound can quickly evaluate for that possibility.


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Letizia answered...

Hi, I feel a lot of sympathy for the sitation you are in. My partner (at the age of 57) suffered also a massive hemorrhagic stroke. He was in a coma for over 3 weeks and took him over 2-3 months to be able to communicate and do anything, like moving the right leg or small imperceptable movements of the hand. Eighteen months later he has recovered full communication skills, is walking with a stick around the house and eat alone, can read, use computers, is writing and his memory is good enough to do crosswords alone! His recovery did not even start for the first 6 months! So don't believe a word when they tell you that after 3-or 6 months nothing will happen.

As far as your father, you don't give an indication on whetehr your father is in hospital or not; if he cannot swallow he should have been fitted with a nasogastric (NG) tube and should be fed with that using obviously a specially prepared food. Speech and language therapists would then slowly introduce thickened fluids y mouth a little spoon at the time and progressively take him through the steps required to aim at been able to be fed or feed himself with solid food. My partner was on NG feeding for over 2 months and only started being able to feed himself with proper food 6 months from his stroke!

As far as his leg, yes compression stockings are essential and he should be on them anyhow because of the lack of movement, but also massages are most important with gentle but firm movements from the foot and calf up the leg. Elevale the leg to make sure that the position favour the fluids to be taken away and gravity does not aggravate the situation. Use massage also for his left arm and hand if they are alos affected (?). Stimulating the affected side to force the brain to 'remember' that the limbs are still there is most important to stop the brain 'ignoring' the part of the body that is not sending signals because it does not move. Do that for your father! while he is unable to do it himself. I started this with my partner almost from when he was in a coma, and 18 months later we still spend at least one hour in the evening massaging his right leg which is the effected and still immobile part. And above all, don't give up, continue stimulating him gently (without overdoing it) with GREAT patience but EVERY day. THis will also possibly prevent contractions of muscles which MUST be avoided at all costs!

It is VERY slow and sometimes you want to give up because you feel you on't see any progress. Then suddenly something happens, a sensation returns where the body seemed dead etc. You must keep the 'dead' part alive but continuously touching it and moving it so that the brain does not 'forget' and new connections forms to reconnect it to the rest of the brain. Don't give up!


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Mary Simpson answered...




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botzgirl answered...

My mother had cerebral hemorage after removal of a brain tumor. She was told that she should be able to go home after 10-14 days after the tumor removal but because of the bleeding in her brain (stroke) she was in a coma for 2 weeks. She had to have a tracheotomy then also a feeding tube inserted in her stomach. Both of her legs were swollen for months due to blood clots and fluid retention from immobility. Whenever I was with her I would move her limbs and rub lotion on her where I could to give her stimulation. I made sure she had the boots they use to avoid footdrop because if he gets footdrop it can make it painful to learn to walk again. Talk to him when you can, even if you don't think he hears you, be possitive. Bring family/friend photographs and point out people and their names. My mother was not able to remember who I was when she first started speech therapy. Now 18 months later she can walk with a walker, shower herself, feed herself and communicate excellently. She is moving from a nursing center to an assisted living facility in two days. I was told she probably would not make it, then that she probably would never walk or talk. She still has short term memory problems and some incontinence but she has come such a long way, it's miraculous! Never give up, the brain has such an ability to repair itself! Look up neuroplasticity on the internet there is a lot of information about it and excercises you can do to help someone repair their brain.

Good luck to you! I know it was a long road for my mother and me and sometimes you feel like you're all alone and that no one understands what you're going through. It's good to have this website as a sounding board.


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rey answered...

My husband one year to this day suffered a major brain stem stroke which we waited to finally find out what had happene when he had been totally unconcince for over 8 hours when we finally found out...56 years old that it was a brain stem stoke and the fact that he would not propably survive ....ever wake up eat, breath without a macine or talk...Guess what..Within 41 day's we returned home toghther...me not able to work...now a year later today...he's able to walk, eat, go down the stair's...13 stairs to our basement to shower, and back up....without any assistance....He does have double vision, his speech is impaired because of the muscle and nerve issues on his left side, and he has issues walking because of the left side impairment...but mentaly he is fully aware of everything...Do not loose hope...


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Letizia answered...

.....And to add to the 3 months 'garbage': my partner just yesterday has regained sensitivity on the right side of his body below the armpit and along the side and the gluteus region that was 'completely numb' until yesterday! This is a new event 18 months after the stroke. He used to call the separation between the sensitive and numbed part the 'terminator line' (an astronomic term to define the separtaion between light and darkness on the moon). Well =, as this morning at 6 am: the terminator line has disappeared! Keep massaging the affected area with just your hands, oil and anything that the person finds pleasant. Don't give up! Never, for them and for yourself! Letizia


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ChrisAn answered...

I feel for you. My husband also suffered a massive stroke. 100% blockage of carotid atery...no warning signs. He is 71. We were told that he would never have an independant thought, be unable to function is any way and to let him go! Well he decided it wasn't his time. He had no movement on the right side of his body, couldn't swallow or speak. His Rt leg also swelled. He ended up with DVT's and pulmonary embolism and back into intensive care. Make sure they keep the elastic hose on his leg and elevate. We are now 17 months into recovery. It is not easy and you have to try to stay positive. After just a month, he was able to swallow and eat soft food and now is on a normal diet and feeds himself. He has regained some use in his right leg and can walk with assistance. Speech is still a problem but he can understand everything. We fight to keep therapy going and run him back and forth 4 times a week. Most important is that he is happy although frustrated at times. Never give up. We see little things improving every week. I don't believe there is a time limit on recovery. Hugs and prayers!


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An anonymous caregiver answered...

It's true, DO NOT Lost Hope. You have to light up with HOPE & Believing that you still have brighter tomorrow. You must always keep in tune the positive thinking of what is good for you, and try to do it gradually you will be surprise the results.ladypityu


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An anonymous caregiver answered...

5years after stroke,andfive years of not giving up, some use of hand can walk 1mile with cane, to hell with that time limit will watch grandkids go to college!


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An anonymous caregiver answered...

Hello to all, I'm 44 year old women who has had a stroke which effected the right side. I will share with you its been a long road. It's the will to win not give up. Stroke can hit anyone, any age . Having the support tools your ahead. I wish all those who have been through a stroke well. Remember your the same person with life style changes. Keep strong!


An anonymous caregiver answered...

The only thing I would like to add to this is that I hate hearing that once 6 months has passed stroke patients stop improving. That's the biggest load of crap I have ever heard. Dont by into that, it is not true. All strokes are different as is all recovery. My hubby started doing better at the 6 month mark, that's when he truly started to recover. Docs that are on top of their game will tell you that this is no longer the general consensus and the healing will continue for years to come. Do not buy into the doom and gloom, stay positive and BE HIS ADVOCATE!

The swelling is is fluid accumulation due to lack of mobility, once he starts moving around more it will diminish. Just make sure there are no clots first, swelling is a sign of clotting issues.