Anosognosia is the lack of awareness or the underestimation of a specific deficit in sensory, perceptual, motor, affective or cognitive functioning due to a brain lesion. This self-awareness deficit has been studied mainly in stroke hemiplegic patients, who may report no deficit, overestimate their abilities or deny that they are unable to move a paretic limb. In this review, a detailed search of the literature was conducted to illustrate clinical manifestations, pathogenetic models, diagnostic procedures and unresolved issues in anosognosia for motor impairment after stroke. English and French language papers spanning the period January 1990-January 2007 were selected using PubMed Services and utilizing research words stroke, anosognosia, awareness, denial, unawareness, hemiplegia. Papers reporting sign-based definitions, neurological and neuropsychological data and the results of clinical trials or historical trends in diagnosis were chosen. As a result, a very complex and multifaceted phenomenon emerges, whose variable behavioural manifestations often produce uncertainties in conceptual definitions and diagnostic procedures. Although a number of questionnaires and diagnostic methods have been developed to assess anosognosia following stroke in the last 30 years, they are often limited by insufficient discriminative power or a narrow focus on specific deficits. As a consequence, epidemiological estimates are variable and incidence rates have ranged from 7 to 77% in stroke. In addition, the pathogenesis of anosognosia is widely debated. The most recent neuropsychological models have suggested a defect in the feedforward system, while neuro-anatomical studies have consistently reported on the involvement of the right cerebral hemisphere, particularly the prefrontal and parieto-temporal cortex, as well as insula and thalamus. We highlight the need for a multidimensional assessment procedure and suggest some potentially productive directions for future research about unawareness of illness.
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