Understanding the Ripple Effects of Stroke on Dopamine Levels and Recovery

Jay Getten | May 9, 2024 | 10 min read


Surviving a stroke is just the beginning of a long and complicated journey to recovery, in which many different aspects of the body and the brain are affected by the damage caused by the event. One key area that is often ignored but very important in this complex recovery process is how the stroke affects neurotransmitters, especially dopamine. Dopamine is an essential neurotransmitter in the brain, responsible for many functions—from controlling movement and mood to shaping motivation and reward systems. The stroke can mess up dopamine pathways, which is a common but neglected problem that can lead to drastic changes in how a person acts, feels, and moves.

A 2018 study in Frontiers in Synaptic Neuroscience by Gower and Tiberi reveals how vital the central dopamine system is after a stroke, especially for getting motor skills back and keeping the brain healthy. This research points to some possible treatments that focus on dopamine pathways to improve recovery results. In the same vein, West (2023) writes in Medical News Today about how changes in dopamine levels, whether too much or too little, can have a huge impact on the body, showing how important it is to keep the balance right for the best health and recovery after a stroke.

Moreover, a thorough review in PLOS ONE by Chan et al. (2022) tackles the challenge of how to provide coordinated care for people who have traumatic brain injuries and also deal with mental health and substance use problems—issues that often overlap with changed dopamine levels in stroke survivors. This coordination of care is vital, as it matches the demand for whole-person treatment plans that address not only the bodily effects of a stroke but also its far-reaching brain impacts.

As we delve deeper into the relationship between stroke recovery and dopamine regulation, it becomes clear that enhancing our understanding of this neurotransmitter's role is not just about addressing motor function or cognitive decline. It's about appreciating the broader implications for the survivor's quality of life, encompassing their emotional well-being and overall mental health. Thus, navigating the complexities of dopamine's impact post-stroke is fundamental to developing more effective, targeted interventions that support a more comprehensive recovery process.

The Impact of Stroke on Dopamine Production and Regulation

Strokes are disasters for the brain, as they can destroy a lot of brain tissue by either cutting off blood supply or spilling blood. This destruction is especially bad for the parts of the brain that make and use dopamine, a vital chemical messenger involved in many important functions. The basal ganglia, a group of structures that control movement and motor skills, rely heavily on dopamine activity. When a stroke hits these areas, it can mess up the normal dopamine pathways, causing different movement problems such as hemiparesis (one side of the body gets weak) or even hemiplegia (one side of the body can't move).

Dopamine is not just a chemical that helps us move our bodies, but also a key factor in how we think and feel after a stroke. Dopamine affects our mood and motivation, so when a stroke damages the brain pathways that use dopamine, it can cause serious changes in how a survivor feels emotionally. They may experience mood swings, depression, or a loss of interest in things they used to enjoy, a symptom known as post-stroke apathy. The review by Chan et al. (2022) in PLOS ONE reveals these complexities, showing how brain injuries and mental health issues are closely linked and result from such neurological damage.

According to Jenkins et al. (2018), strokes can cause dopaminergic abnormalities that affect the brain’s ability to reabsorb dopamine, a chemical that influences cognition and movement. They show how strokes can lower dopamine transporter levels, which are important for this process. Their research reveals how stroke recovery involves both physical and psychological aspects and calls for holistic treatment methods. Gower and Tiberi’s 2018 research look at potential therapies that target the dopamine system to improve motor recovery. They suggest some promising ways to reduce stroke’s negative effects on movement and motor control by focusing on restoring dopamine function.

Stroke affects dopamine in many ways. Dopamine is not just a chemical that makes us feel good, but also a crucial player in how we move, think, and feel. To deal with the consequences of stroke on dopamine, we need a holistic approach. That means not only treating the physical damage, but also addressing the mental and emotional challenges that come with altered dopamine levels. The best care after stroke should combine strategies that boost dopamine regulation, such as specific drugs and comprehensive rehabilitation programs, to help restore both motor and cognitive abilities, as well as happiness.

Rehabilitation and Treatment: A Dopamine-Centric Approach

A stroke can affect many aspects of a person's life, such as their physical abilities, thinking skills, and emotions. To help them get better, they may need different types of treatments that are customized to their needs. Some of these treatments include physical therapy, occupational therapy, and drugs, each with an important role in helping the patient heal. One thing that many of these treatments have in common is that they change the levels of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical that affects movement, mood, and motivation. For example, some drugs that are used to help stroke patients move better or feel happier can also change how much dopamine is in the brain. This change can help improve not only how the patient moves, but also how they feel and want to do things, which can make a big difference in their recovery from the stroke.

Targeted therapies for stroke recovery need to consider the complex roles of dopamine in the brain. For example, Gower and Tiberi (2018) in Frontiers in Synaptic Neuroscience show how dopamine can help improve motor function after stroke, which affects recovery outcomes. Also, Chan et al. (2022) in PLOS ONE review the need for holistic care for brain injuries, mental health, and substance use, suggesting that dopamine modulation could help patients with multiple post-stroke problems. Such treatment is vital, as it recognizes the link between physical and psychological health, often influenced by dopamine imbalance.

Therefore, it is crucial to tailor treatments to the individual’s specific brain and mental needs. This could involve changing dopamine levels to boost motor recovery, using dopamine-related medications to improve mood, or using cognitive enhancers that affect dopamine activity to fix cognitive functions. Each treatment choice should be based on a careful understanding of the patient's unique clinical profile and how it connects to dopamine's roles in the brain. A dopamine-focused approach in stroke rehabilitation not only aims to restore function but also to enhance the quality of life, addressing the intertwined areas of physical mobility, emotional well-being, and cognitive health. By paying attention to dopamine and its key functions, healthcare providers can create more personalized, effective treatment plans that lead to better overall results for stroke

Annotated Bibliography

  • Chan, V., Toccalino, D., Omar, S., Shah, R., & Colantonio, A. (2022). A systematic review on integrated care for traumatic brain injury, mental health, and substance use. PLOS ONE, 17(3), e0264116.
    • This article presents a systematic review that examines the integration of care for individuals with traumatic brain injuries (TBI), mental health issues, and substance use disorders. The review highlights the complexity and interconnectivity of these conditions, emphasizing the need for a holistic approach in treatment plans that cater to the multifaceted needs of affected individuals. The study underscores the importance of integrated healthcare frameworks that facilitate better outcomes in recovery and rehabilitation. ⦁ Read the article Read the article
  • Gower, A., & Tiberi, M. (2018). The intersection of central dopamine system and stroke: Potential avenues aiming at enhancement of motor recovery. Frontiers in Synaptic Neuroscience, 10.
    • Gower and Tiberi explore the role of the central dopamine system in stroke recovery, particularly focusing on how enhancing dopamine function could improve motor recovery. This research is significant for developing potential therapeutic strategies that target the dopaminergic system to aid in the rehabilitation of stroke patients Read the article
  • Harrop, M. (2023, December 15). Dopamine & stroke. Stroke Recovery.
    • In this blog post, Harrop discusses the relationship between dopamine levels and stroke recovery. The article provides an overview of how strokes can impact dopamine production and regulation, which in turn affects the recovery process. The piece is useful for patients and caregivers alike, offering insights into the challenges and considerations involved in post-stroke care related to dopamine dysregulation Read the article
  • Jenkins, P. O., De Simoni, S., Bourke, N. J., Fleminger, J., Scott, G., Towey, D. J., Svensson, W., Khan, S., Patel, M., Greenwood, R., Cole, J. H., & Sharp, D. J. (2018). Dopaminergic abnormalities following traumatic brain injury. Brain, 141(3), 797–810.
    • This study investigates the dopaminergic abnormalities that can occur after traumatic brain injury (TBI). By examining the changes in dopamine transporter levels, the research provides insight into the neurological consequences of TBI and suggests implications for therapeutic interventions aimed at addressing these dopaminergic dysfunctions. Read the article
  • Sherrell, Z. (2023). Dopamine deficiency. MedicalNewsToday
    • Sherrell provides a comprehensive overview of dopamine deficiency, discussing its symptoms, causes, and potential treatments. The article is an accessible resource that explains the roles of dopamine in the body and what happens when its levels are not regulated properly, making it a valuable read for those interested in understanding more about neurotransmitter imbalances Read the article
  • West, M. (2023). How dopamine affects the body: High levels, low levels, and treatment. MedicalNewsToday.
    • West discusses the effects of varying dopamine levels on the body, detailing the consequences of both high and low dopamine levels. The article also covers potential treatments for managing dopamine imbalances, providing a useful guide for individuals dealing with related health conditions Read the article

The goal of these notes is to give a short overview and assessment of each source, showing how they help to explain the complicated links between dopamine and brain disorders such as stroke and traumatic brain injuries.

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