Pontine stroke, also known as pons stroke, is a type of brain stem stroke that’s unlike any other.
Since every stroke is different, and every recovery is different, this might seem obvious.
But pontine stroke truly stands out as a unique type of stroke.
To help spread awareness and education, we’re covering everything you need to know about pontine stroke recovery.
From symptoms to treatment to timeline, this article will answer all your burning questions.
Let’s get started.
What Is a Pontine Stroke?
So, what causes a stroke?
A stroke occurs when the supply of blood to the brain is compromised by either a clogged artery (ischemic stroke) or burst artery (hemorrhagic stroke).
When stroke happens in the pons, which is the upper section of the brain stem, it’s called a pontine stroke.
Or more formally, an ischemic stroke in the pons is also known as a pontine infarct.
The brain stem is composed of 3 parts: the medulla oblongata, pons, and midbrain. A pontine stroke occurs in the pons, which controls:
- Bladder control
- Eye movement
- Facial expression
- Facial sensations
When a stroke happens in the pons, it can create atypical symptoms.
Symptoms of Pontine Stroke
Most strokes result in these “FAST” acronym stroke symptoms: Facial dropping, Arm weakness, and Slurred speech, where Time is brain!
Pontine stroke, however, results in very different symptoms.
The most common symptoms of pons stroke are dizziness and vertigo, likely because the pons controls your sense of equilibrium.
Pontine stroke can also result in weakness on both sides of the body, not just one side. This can make pontine stroke difficult to diagnose without an MRI scan.
If you ever suspect that someone is having a stroke without typical hallmark symptoms, insist that your doctor take an MRI scan. Do not settle for anything less!
Bonus: Download our free stroke recovery tips ebook. (Link will open a pop-up that will not interrupt your reading.)
Treatment for Pontine Stroke
Stroke treatment involves two phases: stopping the stroke and healing the side effects.
Phase 1: Stopping the Pons Stroke
If the pontine stroke was caused by a blood clot (ischemic stroke), then treatment will involve dissolving the clot to restore blood flow.
Common treatments for ischemic pons stroke (i.e. pontine infarct) is tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), where an injection helps dissolve the clot, or an embolectomy, where a stent is surgically inserted into the artery to remove the clot.
Treatment for hemorrhagic pons stroke usually involves surgery to stop the bleeding and restore blood flow.
Phase 2: Healing the Pons Stroke Side Effects
Stroke is a serious medical condition because while the stroke is happening, brain cells are dying. The longer the stroke happens, the more brain damage occurs.
When blood flow is restored, the brain starts to heal. That’s why time is brain when it comes to stroke recovery.
Damage to the pons will result in stroke side effects that need to be treated through rehabilitation. We will discuss rehabilitation after we dig into the side effects.
Side Effects of Pontine Stroke
When the pons becomes damaged by stroke, it can cause different side effects, such as:
- Impaired breathing (and required life support)
- Loss of consciousness (coma)
- Locked-in syndrome (the entire body becomes paralyzed except for the eyes)
- Visual and hearing disturbances
- Changes in sensation
- Weakness in the limbs
- Swallowing and speech difficulty
The larger the stroke was, the more severe the side effects will be.
Rehabilitation for Pontine Stroke
Time seems to be the best way to recover basic life functions like impaired breathing and loss of consciousness.
The last 3 side effects listed above can be actively treated, however, through the following stroke rehabilitation methods:
Changes in Sensation
When you lose the ability to feel, or when your sensations get all mixed up, sensory reeducation can help you recover.
Sensory reeducation simply involves retraining the brain to correctly interpret your senses through sensory reeducation exercises.
Weakness in the Limbs
In order to recover from weakness in the limbs, you need to participate in physical therapy and practice stroke rehabilitation exercises.
The purpose of rehab exercise is to reteach your brain how to control you muscles through massed practice.
Massed practice simply means that a lot of practice will help the brain rewire itself faster.
So high repetition is key to recovering mobility after stroke.
Swallowing and Speech Problems
Finally, you can treat swallowing and speech problems by doing therapy with a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP).
SLPs will have you practice different exercises to help rewire your brain and improve your control of your mouth, lips, and tongue.
As you can see, stroke rehabilitation revolves around rewiring the brain, and massed practice is very powerful for healing.
Pontine Stroke Recovery Time
So, what will your stroke recovery timeline look like?
Typically, if the stroke was small, you can recover within about 6 months. If the stroke was massive, then recovery can take well over a year.
Every stroke is different though, so it’s possible to have a very fast recovery from a massive pontine stroke just as it’s possible to recover slowly from a minor stroke.
Instead of focusing on how long things will take, focus on the steps you can take to speed recovery along, such as massed practice.
Pontine Stroke Recovery Summary
Pontine stroke is a type of brain stem stroke that results in symptoms that are abnormal compared to the hallmark FAST acronym symptoms.
A pons stroke can affect many basic life functions like consciousness and breathing while also affecting mobility, speech, and sensation.
Rehabilitation involves massed practice of the skills that need to be relearned. It’s difficult to estimate how long recovery will take since every stroke is different.
If you or a loved one are recovering from a pontine stroke, please leave us a comment below and share your story. Our community would love to hear from you.