Brain stem stroke side effects, treatment, and rehabilitation
If you experienced a brain stem stroke, this guide will explain how the recovery process goes.
You’ll learn about the top 10 side effects from this rare type of stroke, and how treatment works.
Let’s get straight to it.
Brain Stem Stroke Side Effects
Generally speaking, the larger the stroke was, the more side effects there will be.
Every stroke is different, though, so every recovery will be different.
You may experience a few or many of these brain stem stroke side effects:
- Loss of smell and/or taste
- Partial or complete hearing loss
- Difficulty breathing
- Locked-in syndrome (very rare)
- Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
- Vertigo, dizziness, severe imbalance issues
- Vision problems
- Weakness or paralysis in all 4 limbs
- Numbness or loss of sensation
- Difficulty speaking (dysarthria, which is different from aphasia)
As you can see, this list is quite long, so it’s important to work closely with your medical team during brain stem stroke recovery.
To supplement (not substitute) their advice, we’d like to share important information about treatment.
Healing the Brain After Stroke
Stroke side effects are caused by damage to the brain, so treatment will involve healing the brain.
Luckily, your brain already knows how to heal itself — with your help — through a process known as neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity allows your brain to rewire and restructure itself by forming new neural pathways.
When the brain stem becomes damaged by stroke, neuroplasticity allows the surrounding parts of the brain to “pick up the slack.”
Neuroplasticity is key to effective stroke treatment.
You can activate neuroplasticity through repetition.
Your brain likes to be efficient, so whatever you frequently do is what your brain will get better at.
The more you repeat a task, the stronger the neural pathways in your brain become. That’s why habits become second nature – the neural pathways have been heavily reinforced.
Rehabilitation for Brain Stem Stroke
Stroke rehabilitation can help reverse the side effects of brain stem stroke.
Most rehabilitation methods revolve around the concept of massed practice, where repetition helps heal the brain after stroke.
When the brain stem becomes damaged by stroke, the surrounding areas of the brain can pick up the slack through neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity is activated through practice. Repetition will help you rewire your brain and rebuild your skills.
Treatment for Brain Stem Stroke
Here’s a breakdown of treatment for stroke side effects:
1. Dysphagia (Difficulty Swallowing)
When you have difficulty swallowing, it can make eating and drinking difficult because you might choke or aspirate (inhale food into the lungs).
Luckily, you can work to overcome dysphagia by working with a Speech Language Pathologist who will take you through various exercises to improve your oral motor skills.
For example, an SLP might have you do various tongue and speech exercises to help you regain control of your mouth and swallowing abilities.
2. Vertigo, Dizziness, and Imbalance Issues
Vertigo and imbalance after brain stem stroke is likely caused by impairment to your sense of balance.
By practicing balance exercises, you can improve your sense of balance, and your vertigo and dizziness may improve.
3. Vision Problems
Vision problems can be tricky to treat because there could be various causes.
4. Weakness (Hemiparesis) in All 4 Limbs
The best way to regain strength in your limbs is by practicing stroke rehab exercises.
The more you practice your exercises, the more your mobility will improve as your brain rewires itself.
High repetition should be greatly emphasized so that the brain has the stimulation it needs to recover.
5. Paralysis (Hemiplegia) in All 4 Limbs
Passive exercise is the best hemiplegia treatment, which simply means assisting your affected side through rehabilitation exercises.
Passive exercise can help you overcome hemiplegia by activating neuroplasticity and rewiring the brain.
If you have severe hemiplegia, this often requires the help of a caregiver or therapist.
6. Numbness or Loss of Sensation
Numbness is a sensory problem that can be treated by practicing sensory reeducation exercises.
Sensory reeducation simply involves retraining your brain “how to feel” again.
Dysarthria is a speech condition characterized by slurred or slow speech.
Unlike aphasia, dysarthria is a motor problem where you cannot control the muscles in your mouth and tongue (i.e. your “speech muscles”).
Luckily, you can practice speech therapy exercises to regain your ability to use your speech muscles.
Brain Stem Stroke Recovery
Overall, there is hope for brain stem stroke recovery.
Work with your medical team to identify your stroke side effects and create a plan for rehabilitation.
Be sure to include lots of practice in your plan because repetition is the key to healing the brain after stroke.