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Apoplexy

Updated on December 1, 2016
Photo by Rodrigo Galindo
Photo by Rodrigo Galindo

Apoplexy is a term, no longer in common use, for the group of symptoms indicating hemorrhage into the interior of the brain or upon its surface. Apoplexy was described clinically as early as the mid-17th century, but the term now has been superseded by the designation, cerebral hemorrhage.

Apoplexy occurs suddenly and is the immediate result of a blockage or a blood clot in blood vessels of the brain. The obstruction or blood clot may develop in the vessels of the brain or it may develop elsewhere and be brought to the vessels of the brain by the blood current. A typical apoplectic seizure or "stroke" is recognized by hemiplegia (paralysis of one lateral half of the body) accompanied by the loss of consciousness, prolonged coma, and often by death within a few hours or days. Partial recovery may take place and the patient may survive for many years. In a certain percentage of cases, the speech center of the brain is involved and blindness in one eye is common.

Hemiplegia is caused by bleeding into the internal cavities of the brain. The result is a paralysis of the facial muscles or one side of the tongue, with palsy of the extremities on the opposite side. Patients who recover walk with a spastic gait, and the reflexes on the paralyzed side are exaggerated. Hemiplegia also may be caused by a degenerative arteriosclerosis of the cerebral vessels. The prognosis for recovery is variable, and some disability is inevitable. Mental impairment is common.

The term "apoplexy" also may be applied to massive bleeding into an internal organ such as the lung, spleen, or eye.

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