Brain cells starved of oxygen and nutrients because of a stroke die. Unlike other cells in the body, once brain cells have died they are not usually replaced. The area of dead brain cells caused by the stroke is called an infarct.
Cells surrounding the infarct may also receive insufficient blood supply and are, therefore at risk of dying too. This area of cells is called the penumbra.
The size of the infarct will affect a person’s chance of recovery from a stroke. And if treatment is delayed the infract will grow.
The location of the infarct within the brain will impact what symptoms the patient has. For example, an infarct on the right side of the brain may affect control of the muscles on the left side of the body.
While the brain cells damaged by the stroke may not be replaced, people do have the ability to “work around” that damage. The potential for new neural pathways or links to develop in the brain is known as brain plasticity and can explain how stroke survivors regain some functions through rehabilitation therapies.