Brain Stem Stroke

by Sam Malone

The brain stem is about half inch in diameter but is in charge of all the basic functions of the central nervous system. Activities such as breathing, concentration, and breathing are all controlled by the brain stem. If anything affects or damages this control centre of the brain, one or all of these functions can be seriously impaired. The extent of damage caused by such a stroke will also depend on the location of the stroke in the brain stem and the extent of this injury. When the blood supply to the brain stem is interrupted, a brain stem stroke occurs. There are two types of brain bleed strokes – ischemic and hemorrhagic.


Ischemic strokes are the more common type of stroke and are caused by a decrease in the blood supply to the area. This can be caused by a clot in the heart or neck that breaks off and blocks the flow of blood to the brain stem or a clot in the artery that supplies blood to the brain. Hemorrhagic strokes are caused by a burst blood vessel in the brain that causes excessive bleeding and damage to the delicate brain tissue.

There are certain factors that increase a person’s chance of developing a brain stem or cerebral stroke such as:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Heart conditions such as artrial fibrillation
  • Smoking
  • Narrowing of the arteries
  • Obesity
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Tendency to blood clots
  • Certain medications such as oral contraceptive pills
  • Diet high in sodium and fatty foods
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Past history of strokes or heart attacks
  • Old age
  • Family history of strokes

Other reasons for a brain stem stroke include blood clots or hemorrhages in the stem and injury to the head or neck.


Symptoms of a brain stem stroke can be complex and often be confused for other conditions. The main indications that a stroke has occurred are:

  • Vertigo
  • Dizziness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Imbalance
  • Weakness or loss of mobility in one side of the body
  • Blurred or disturbed vision
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Hearing loss
  • Problem chewing or eating
  • Inability to speak properly
  • Inability to understand other people’s speech
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Lethargy
  • Feeling of numbness or tingling on one side of the body
  • Severe brain stem stroke can result in locked-in syndrome where only the eyes can move
  • Coma

If you or anyone you know exhibits any of these symptoms, get to an emergency room immediately. If left untreated, a brain stem stroke may prove fatal.


Prompt recognition and treatment of a brain stem stroke can result in a good chance of recovery. In most cases, brain stem strokes do not affect the language capability of the patient. As a result, rehabilitative therapies have a greater impact on his recovery process. Symptoms such as blurred vision and dizziness also tend to resolve on their own in a matter of weeks after the stroke.

If the cause of the brain stem stroke is a clot, the sooner blood supply is restored to the area, the fewer the complications that result from the stroke. Treatment for a stroke caused by a blood clot usually includes dissolving the clot and stopping the bleeding. For ischemic strokes, blood-thinning medications may be prescribed to remove the clot and control high blood pressure. For a hemorrhagic stroke, blood thinners are never used as these can aggravate and increase the bleeding. Surgery to remove the clot or repair the artery may be required as well.



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