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)
- ‘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.