A stroke affects not only the patient, but family and friends as well. Changes in abilities may change how you relate to those closest to you. These changes include:
After a stroke, changes in roles and responsibilities may cause you, your spouse, or other family members to have feelings that make them uncomfortable.
This list includes some of the emotions and feelings you and your loved ones might have after the stroke. These are natural responses. Find people you are comfortable with to talk about your feelings. If any of these feelings become overwhelming, talk with a doctor or your healthcare team.
Anger: Feeling angry about the stroke. You may ask, “Why is this happening to me?” or “What did I do to deserve this?”
Anxiety: Worrying about the future or how well you will recover.
Embarrassment: Feeling awkward and ashamed about your lost abilities.
Frustration: Losing patience with yourself for not being able to do things you used to do
Grief and loss: You may feel a profound sense of loss about an ability, or you may grieve for the future as you had once seen it.
Guilt: You may be feeling guilty about the changes your stroke has caused in the family and about needing more support. Sometimes, the stroke brings up guilt about events that took place in the past.
Loneliness: Feeling isolated and believing that no one understands what you are going through.
Sadness: Feeling sad for the losses and the changes.
One-to-one support: Find someone to talk to about your feelings. This might be a close family member or friend, a religious leader or a professional counselor.
Support group/networking: This is a group of people who have experienced similar situations. They get together regularly to talk about their feelings and what they are going through, whether in person or online. They also share tips for coping.
Education sessions: Taking part in workshops such as the Heart&Stroke Living with StrokeTM program will increase your knowledge and help you learn practical tips to deal with everyday issues. At a workshop, you also get the chance to meet others who have had a stroke.
Who can help?
If you enjoyed sex before your stroke, you will likely still be interested afterward. Physical changes can interfere with your sex life though. You may have lost feeling on one side of your body. Or you may have trouble communicating with your partner. Some men have trouble getting an erection or ejaculating. Women may have less feeling in the vagina and more dryness. Drugs such as tranquillizers, high blood pressure medicine and sleeping pills may also reduce your sexual ability and desire.
Feeling nervous about having sex again?
Being anxious about intimacy after a stroke is normal. Sexuality is closely linked with the way you see yourself. If your stroke has changed the way you look, you may wonder if your partner is still attracted to you. Or you may be depressed and not interested in giving or receiving attention. All these things can lead to anxiety and may cause you to avoid intimate relations. The trouble is, delaying intimacy only increases anxiety.
You may have to make some changes so that you can return to a satisfying sex life. Both you and your partner will need to adjust to the changes in your body. Accepting these changes may take time, effort and honest communication. If you feel uncomfortable discussing your sexual feelings with each other, ask your doctor to refer you to an appropriate professional. Your social worker or mental-health professional may also be able to help.
Don’t worry about having another stroke during intercourse. Sexual activity raises your blood pressure but no more than walking up a short flight of stairs.
Tips for getting your sex life started again
Set the scene
Try new things
Other ways to show love
You don’t have to have sexual intercourse to show love for your partner. Hugging, kissing, caressing, massaging and touching all show love and affection. Find out different ways to please each other.
How drugs affect sex drive
Who can help?
Share your feelings and concerns with members of the healthcare team. They can provide support, understanding and encouragement. They can also guide you to the resources you need. Your doctor or social worker plays a key role in this area of support.
StrokEngine provides information on stroke rehabilitation and interventions from quality articles, websites and systematic reviews. Visit StrokEngine to learn more about sexuality.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation provides practical knowledge and skills to help care for stroke survivors. Tips and Tools for Everyday Living: A Guide for Stroke Caregivers is designed for healthcare providers and is also a useful reference for family caregivers. Read more about the Guide.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation has a Living with StrokeTM program for stroke survivors who have completed their active rehabilitation and are living in the community. It focuses on building skills, sharing experiences and lending support. Find a Living with StrokeTM program in your area.
Last reviewed: November 2010.