Glossary of Terms

A-Z Glossary of Important Terms Concerning Stroke



Activities of Daily Living: abbreviated as ADL, include daily hygiene, such as bathing, showering, or washing; grooming, shaving, combing one’s hair or dressing; eating and drinking; and walking or standing for mobility.

Acute: a disease or condition that begins abruptly.

Advance Directive: A legal document (as a living will) signed by competent person to provide guidance for medical and health-care decisions (as the termination of life support or organ donation) in the event the person becomes incompetent to make such decisions.

Ambulation: the act of walking or moving with or without assistive devices.

Aphasia: a complete or partial loss of or impairment of the individual’s ability to use or understand language. It may be temporary or permanent: Expressive aphasia in which words cannot be formed or expressed, or Receptive aphasia in which language is not understood.

Atherosclerosis: a common abnormal condition that refers to the plaques or “hardened areas” along the inner walls of the arteries causing the blood vessel to become narrowed with reduced blood flow to the different regions of the brain. This condition is seen with aging and buildup of lipids, cholesterol, proteins, and calcium that may create a risk for thrombosis. It is associated with use of tobacco, high blood pressure, obesity and other conditions that are risk factors for stroke.

Atrophy: a wasting or reduction in size, e.g., smaller muscles as a result of “disuse” or not using the muscles, diseases, or lack of physical exercise, or a reduction in the size of the brain due to the aging process or reduced blood flow over a long period of time.


Brain Stem: The part of the brain composed of the midbrain, pons, and medulla oblongata and connecting the spinal cord with the forebrain and cerebrum.

Bruit: an abnormal blowing or “swishing” sound or murmur heard while placing a stethoscope over the carotid artery. When the artery is approximately 70% blocked, a bruit may be heard by the experienced examiner. If the artery is almost totally blocked, there is usually no audible sound.


Carotid Artery: the major arteries on each side of the neck that are responsible for carrying a large amount of blood supply to the head and neck. A carotid “bruit” or murmur may be heard by using a stethoscope placed gently over the carotid artery that suggests an arterial narrowing.

Cerebral Embolism: a blood clot, or embolism that blocks a vessel in the brain and prevents oxygen and circulation to the areas beyond the clot.

Cerebral Hemorrhage: bleeding from a bold vessel in the brain that can lead to displacement or destruction of brain tissue.

Cerebral Thrombosis: a clotting of bold in any cerebral vessel that block flow to parts of the brain.

Cholesterol: a waxy lipid or fat-like substance that is produced by the body and found almost exclusively in foods of animal origin. Increased levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol may be associated with atherosclerosis, whereas higher levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol appear to lower the person’s risk for heart disease and stroke.

Contracture: an abnormal shortening of muscles or other soft tissue around a joint that may result in pain and discomfort and loss of function.

CT Scan or Computed Tomography: a radiographic diagnostic test that produces a film representing a detailed cross section of the head and brain (or other parts of the body). The procedure is a quick, safe, painless test that can be performed with or without contrast dye.


Dementia: a progressive organic mental state that may be characterized by personality changes, confusion and decreased intellectual capacity, memory, judgment and impulses.

Diastolic Blood Pressure (DBP): the blood pressure in the arteries when the heart muscle is relaxed.

Dysarthria: difficulty with speech output due to muscle weakness or in coordination causing slurred speech.

Dysphagia: difficulty with swallowing.


Edema: the abnormal collection of fluid or swelling in the tissue spaces.

Electrocardiogram (ECG of EKG): a graphic recording of the electrical heart activity.

Electroencephalogram (EEG): a graphic chart that records the electrical impulses produced by the brain cells detected by placing electrodes on the scalp that provide information about neurological conditions, e.g., seizures.

Endarterectomy: the surgical removal of an abnormal plaque formation or deposit in the lining of an artery that has contributed to the narrowing of the artery and causing decreased blood flow to the brain.


Flaccid: weak, soft and flabby, e.g., an arm or leg that has no muscle tone that can occur following a brain attack


Gait: the manner or style of walking. The normal gait has a swing phase and a stance phase for each lower limb that includes rhythm, cadence, and speed.


Hemiparesis: muscular weakness on one-half of the body. When caused by a brain attack, the weakness is on the opposite side of the body from the brain damage or brain attack.

Hemorrhage: loss of a large amount of blood when a vessel in the brain, for example, ruptures or bleeds.

Hemiplegia: paralysis on one-half of the body on the opposite side of the brain damage or brain attack.

Hypertension: the number one cause of a brain attack is an elevated blood pressure that exceeds the normal limits for an individual’s blood pressure.


Incontinence: the inability to control the bowel or bladder from emptying. The individual with incontinence may need to have a prescribed bower and bladder program.

Ischemia: a decreased supply of oxygenated blood to an organ.




Living Will: A document in which the signer requests to be allowed to die rather than be kept alive by artificial means if disabled beyond a reasonable expectation of recovery.


MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging): a noninvasive diagnostic study that uses radiofrequency radiation as it source to image areas of the body. The procedure is pain-free but may cause claustrophobia that can be relieved with appropriate medication.




Paresis: weakness of a muscle group that can occur following a brain attack. The partial loss of muscle power or sensation.

Paraplegia: paralysis that is characterized by motor and sensory loss in the legs and trunk on both sides of the body.

Physiatrist: a physician who specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation who deals with problems following a brain attack: directs the rehabilitation team for long-term follow-up and home care for individuals with disabilities.



Rehabilitation: the restoration of an individual using therapies with the goal of maximizing independence or restoring the individual to their highest level of functioning after an illness.


Seizure: abnormal brain wave activity that can cause changes in behavior. A seizure may be clonic, tonic, focal or generalized and is usually diagnosed following a test, e.g., an EEG by a neurologist.

Spasticity: increased tension or tightness in a muscle that resists efforts to stretch. This condition can result in pain and discomfort, weakness, loss of function and independence that can require medications, therapy, or a surgical implantation of an intrathecal baclofen device for relief.

Systolic Blood Pressure (SBP): the pressure inside the arteries when the heart contracts with each beat.


Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA): described as a mini-stroke, it causes symptoms just like a brain attack but is transient lasting only a few minutes and completely reverses when the cerebral blood vessel that was temporarily blocked or was in a spasm resolves spontaneously. A TIA could be a warning sign of a serious cerebrovascular event and should be taken seriously.



Ventricles (Cerebral): small, fluid-filled cavities within the brain that are filled with cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that is continuously being produced and circulating in the brain, to cushion and protect the brain.

Visual Field Defect (VFD): refers to impaired vision affecting the outer half of one eye and the inner half of the other eye and is similar to a “blind spot.” The loss is generally on the side that is paralyzed after a brain attack.

Vocational Rehabilitation: the process of retraining an individual to perform job-related activities after they have experienced a disability, such as a brain attack.