If you experienced a brain stem stroke, then you might wonder what the recovery process entails.
In this article, you’ll learn about the causes and symptoms of brain stem stroke along with how to treat and rehabilitate the after-effects.
Let’s get straight to it.
What Is Brain Stem Stroke?
A brain stem stroke occurs when the supply of blood in the brain becomes compromised by either a clogged or burst artery.
Specifically, a brain stem stroke may occur in the midbrain, the pons, and/or the medulla oblongata, which are comprise the brain stem.
- An ischemic brain stem stroke occurs when a blood clot gets clogged in an artery
- A hemorrhagic brain stem stroke occurs when an artery bursts open
When oxygen-rich blood stops flowing to the brain stem, cells in that area begin to die. This leads to the after-effects of stroke.
Brain stem strokes are a rare type of stroke that may lead to locked-in syndrome and loss of sensation.
Next, we will discuss treatment and rehabilitation for brain stem stroke recovery.
Symptoms of Brain Stem Stroke
You can tell when someone is having a stroke by the well-recognized symptoms of facial drooping, arm weakness, and slurred speech.
With brain stem stroke, other symptoms such as dizziness, vomiting, and headache may be present.
When you see someone who shows symptoms of stroke, it’s critical to get them medical treatment as soon as possible!
Brain cells continue to die until the stroke has been treated, so time is brain!
Treatment for Brain Stem Stroke
In the emergency room, doctors will act swiftly to identify the type of stroke and administer treatment.
For ischemic stroke, clot-busting drugs like aspirin or tPA will be used to dissolve the clot and restore blood flow.
Hemorrhagic stroke is typically more severe and may require surgery to resolve the internal bleeding.
Once the stroke has been resolved, rehabilitation can begin. The goal is to restore as much of the after-effects of brain stem stroke as possible.
Brain Stem Stroke Side Effects
After brain stem stroke, you may experience some of these 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 and aphasia)
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.
Below, we’ll discuss what rehabilitation generally involves.
Rehabilitation for Brain Stem Stroke
Stroke rehabilitation can help reverse some of the side effects of brain stem stroke.
You will notice that most of the rehabilitation methods below involve lots of practice. That’s because repetition is how the brain rewires itself and forms new neural pathways.
This process is called neuroplasticity, and it allows the surrounding areas of the brain stem to “pick up the slack.”
Now that you know this important concept, here’s a breakdown of rehabilitation for brain stem stroke recovery:
1. Physical and Occupational Therapy
If brain stem stroke impaired your mobility, the best way to regain movement 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.
2. Passive ROM Exercises
If you struggle with paralysis after brain stem stroke, then passive exercise may help rehabilitate your mobility.
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.
3. Sensory Reeducation
Numbness may occur after brain stem stroke, which is a sensory problem.
Luckily, sensory problems that can be restored through sensory reeducation exercises.
Sensory reeducation simply involves retraining your brain “how to feel” again.
4. Speech Therapy
Impaired speech after stroke is often a condition known as aphasia, which impairs your language skills.
Brain stem stroke may result in a different type of language impairment called dysarthria, which is 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, both conditions can be improved by practicing speech therapy exercises to retrain the brain.
It’s also a good idea to work with a Speech Language Pathologist who can expertly diagnose and treat your language condition.
5. Vision Therapy
Vision problems are another common side effect of brain stem stroke.
The unfortunate news is that sometimes you cannot improve your vision, and may require special glasses to cope with symptoms like double vision.
You won’t know until you try!
Recovering from Brain Stem Stroke
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.