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Brainstem Stroke: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

Brainstem Stroke

The brainstem is the nervous system tissue located beneath the cerebrum and directly above the spinal cord. It is partially responsible for controlling certain involuntary bodily functions, such as breathing, heartbeat, and blood pressure. The nerves used for eye movement, chewing, hearing, talking, and swallowing are also controlled by this part of the brain, making it essential to survival.

Similar to heart attack and stroke, a brainstem stroke occurs when blood flow to the tissue is obstructed or interrupted. If blood is unable to reach the tissue, the cells cannot be oxygenated and quickly die. If the brainstem cannot function properly due to dead or damaged tissue, involuntary bodily functions can no longer be regulated, resulting in death.

There are two main types of brainstem stroke: ischemic and hemorrhagic. The most common form is ischemic stroke, which is caused by the obstruction of a blood vessel that supplies oxygen to the brainstem. The hemorrhagic stroke is caused by a burst blood vessel, leading to bleeding and pressure in the brain.

To treat a brainstem stroke, the type of stroke must first be identified using diagnostic imaging technology. A CT scan or MRI may be used to image the brain and detect the cause of the stroke. Once the condition has been diagnosed, medications or surgery will be indicated to alleviate the symptoms and reduce damage to the tissue.

The symptoms of brainstem stroke are often sudden and severe and include the following:

  • Hearing loss
  • Problems with vital functions, such as breathing
  • Problems with sensation
  • Weakness or paralysis in the face, legs, and/or arms
  • Difficulty chewing, speaking, or swallowing
  • Vision problems
  • A feeling of spinning when not moving (vertigo)
  • Coma
  • ‘Locked-in syndrome’ (when only the eyes are able to be moved)

If you or another person experiences these symptoms, consider seeking emergency medical assistance immediately. Regional Medical Center of San Jose's Joint Commissioned Certified Primary Stroke Center is dedicated to providing patients with the emergency stroke care that they need. To learn more about us and our services, visit our website or contact us at (408) 259-4000.


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Medical Help

Can you recognize the symptoms of a heart attack? What is the difference between a left-side and right-side stroke? If you’re interested in more information on these topics and more, then check out the following resources or call Regional Medical Center of San Jose at (408) 259-4000.

  • Learn how to diagnose the symptoms of a heart attack with this link from the American Heart Association.
  • This link from the American College of Gastroenterology provides information on the causes and symptoms of heartburn.
  • Learn more about the different types of strokes with this article from the National Stroke Association.
  • Visit this link from Regional Medical Center of San Jose’s health content page for more information on right-side strokes.
  • Find out what makes a left-side stroke different from a right-side stroke with this health content page from Regional Medical Center of San Jose.
  • Check out this link for more information on the heart diagnostic tests available at Regional Medical Center of San Jose.
  • What is echocardiography? Find out with this article from the American Heart Association.
  • Learn why you may require a heart ultrasound with this article from the American Society of Echocardiography.
  • This link from the National Cancer Institute provides several statistics regarding breast cancer in the United States.
  • Do you know how to perform a self-breast exam? Learn how with this link from the American Cancer Society.

Left-Side vs. Right-Side Strokes

Sides of the Brain

Studies show that more than 700,000 Americans experience the symptoms of a stroke each year, making it the third leading killer in the United States. These statistics demonstrate the importance of educating yourself on the types of strokes and their symptoms before they occur.

Left-Side Stroke
The left hemisphere of your brain is responsible for the functions on the right side of your body, as well as controlling your ability to speak and use language. When a left-side stroke occurs, the brain’s blood supply is temporarily interrupted, depleting that portion of your brain from oxygenated blood and vital nutrients. This may occur due to a tear in a blood vessel, blood clot formation, or a burst blood vessel that causes bleeding in the brain. The immediate symptoms of a left-side stroke include:

  • Confusion
  • Weakness or numbness of the face, arm, or leg on the right side of the body
  • Trouble speaking or understanding
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dizziness and headache

Long-lasting effects of a left-side stroke may include difficulty moving the right side of the body, as well as difficulty speaking, reading, writing, reasoning, and completing tasks.

Right-Side Stroke
The right hemisphere of your brain maintains the functions on the left-side of your body, as well as cognitive functions. The causes and symptoms of a right-side stroke are the same as a left-side stroke, except that the symptoms usually affect the left side of your body. Long-lasting effects of a right-side stroke include:

  • Left-sided weakness
  • Sensory problems
  • Difficulty speaking or swallowing
  • Trouble comprehending spatial relationships
  • Emotional distress

The Joint Commission Certified Primary Stroke Center at Regional Medical Center of San Jose offers diagnostic options, treatment services, rehabilitation, and educational services for all of our stroke patients. Our team of physicians and nurses work quickly to identify the symptoms of a stroke from the moment our patients arrive at our facility. Contact us online for more information, or call (408) 259-4000.


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