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Occipital Lobe Stroke: What It Affects & How to Recover

illustration of occipital lobe stroke in relation to the rest of the brain

A stroke in the occipital lobe often results in vision problems since this area of the brain processes visual input from the eyes.

Aside from visual deficits, occipital lobe strokes also cause unique stroke symptoms that you should learn to recognize in order to help save a life.

Here’s everything you should know about occipital lobe stroke – also known as occipital lobe infarct.

Cause of Occipital Lobe Stroke

A stroke occurs when the supply of blood in the brain becomes blocked by either a clogged or burst artery.

When a blood clot clogs an artery in the brain, it’s known as an ischemic stroke, which accounts for 87% of all strokes. A burst or ruptured artery, on the other hand, is known as a hemorrhagic stroke.

illustration of brain with ischemic and hemmorhagic occipital lobe stroke

When part of the brain becomes deprived of oxygen-rich blood due to stroke, brain cells begin to die. This can create serious complications, making stroke a medical emergency that requires immediate, swift treatment.

Treatment for Occipital Lobe Stroke

Once occipital lobe stroke patients arrive in the hospital for treatment, doctors may use of clot-busting drugs, like tPA or aspirin, to restore blood flow in the brain after an ischemic stroke.

Hemorrhagic strokes often require more invasive treatment like surgery (craniotomy) to stop the bleeding and relieve pressure within the skull.

Before we get to the side effects and rehabilitation for occipital lobe stroke, it’s important to know how the symptoms vary from other strokes.

Symptoms of Occipital Lobe Stroke

Typically, strokes can be identified using the acronym “FAST,” which includes:

  • Facial drooping, where one side of the face sags downward
  • Arm weakness, where one arm cannot be lifted as high as the other
  • Slurred speech, where the person cannot talk like normal
  • Time – where time is of the essence for treatment!

However, it’s critical to note that a stroke in the occipital lobe often presents unique symptoms, such as:

  • Visual disturbances such as partial or complete blindness or hallucinations
  • Severe headache or migraine that lasts longer than usual (25% of strokes are accompanied by headaches)
  • Tingling on one or both sides of the body
  • Numbness
  • Lightheadedness

If you ever encounter these symptoms, call 9-1-1 right away for emergency treatment. Time is brain, and swift action can help save a life!

Once a stroke has been identified and treated, patients must work to overcome the side effects that may occur.

Occipital Lobe Stroke Deficits

eye exercise chart that helps vision problems after occipital lobe stroke

The primary stroke deficit that occurs after an occipital lobe stroke involves vision problems.

There are many ways that vision can be affected after an occipital lobe stroke.

Here are the different types of vision problems after occipital lobe stroke:

  • Homonymous hemianopia. The occipital lobe spans across both hemispheres of the brain. When stroke affects the occipital lobe on one side, it can cause blindness on the opposite side of the visual field. For example, a stroke in the right occipital lobe can result in blindness on the left side of the visual field.
  • Cortical Blindness. When all vision is lost after an occipital lobe stroke, it’s called cortical blindness. This differs from “regular” blindness because the eyes are unaffected, but the visual processing abilities of the brain have been severely compromised.
  • Central vision loss. When a stroke affects the occipital pole (the area of the occipital lobe that processes central vision), patients may experience blindness in the middle of their visual field. They can see in their peripheral, but not directly in front of them.
  • Visual Hallucinations. In rare cases, an occipital lobe stroke can result in vivid hallucinations where patients see various images like lights, sparks, colorful pinwheels, etc.
  • Prosopagnosia. This refers to “face blindness” where the patient cannot recognize faces. This may occur when the part of the occipital lobe that processes faces has been impacted by the stroke. (This is also common in right hemisphere strokes.)
  • Visual Agnosia. This occurs when the patient cannot identify familiar objects and/or people by sight.
  • Alexia without Agraphia. Alexia refers to inability to read or understand written word. Agraphia refers to the inability to communicate through writing. Therefore, an occipital lobe stroke may impact a patient’s ability to read or understand word by looking at the word – it’s a visual problem, not a language problem.

Aside from vision, some occipital lobe stroke patients may also experience sensory issues such as numbness or tingling sensations.

However, when stroke only affects the occipital lobe, studies have reported that patients often have “no significant neurological deficits other than visual-field loss.”

If the stroke impacted more than just the occipital lobe, then other stroke side effects may occur as well.

Rehabilitation for Occipital Lobe Stroke

illustration of brain rewiring itself after occipital lobe stroke

With most side effects of occipital lobe stroke involving vision problems, rehabilitation will revolve around restoring eyesight.

Talk to your doctor, who can refer you to a neuro-ophthalmologist or neuro-optometrist. It’s important to see specialists who understand the neurological impact of the stroke on visual processing. A regular optometrist may not be able to help.

After seeing a specialist, some treatment plans may include vision restoration therapy. These therapies capitalize on neuroplasticity after stroke, which involves the brain’s ability to heal itself and form new neural networks.

Organizations like Plasticity Brain Centers specialize in programs that can help you rebuild the eye-brain connection. Some modalities used include eye movement training (eye exercises), hand-eye coordination exercises, or light therapy.

Vision is important for carrying out the activities of daily living, so it’s important to exercise caution and work with trained specialists when your vision has been affected by stroke.

Outlook for Occipital Lobe Stroke

Participation in rehabilitation is encouraged to capitalize on the brain’s ability to heal itself, especially during the first 3 months after stroke.

Some patients may experience spontaneous recovery where their vision returns naturally. According to Healthline, this may take around 6 months, but it varies from person to person because every stroke is different.

Overall, there is hope for recovery from occipital lobe stroke. By working closely with your medical team, you can come up with a rehabilitation plan that will help you navigate your new life after stroke.

Best of luck on the road to recovery.

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