Although only a half-inch around, the brain stem controls all basic activities of the central nervous system. The brain stem controls breathing, blood pressure, and consciousness.
All of the motor control for the body flows through this small piece of tissue. Brain stem strokes can permanently impair any or all of these functions.
Brain stem strokes can cause complex symptoms, and they can sometimes be difficult to diagnose. A person suffering a brain stem stroke may experience vertigo, dizziness, or poor balance while lacking typical features of a stroke, like weakness on one side of the body.
The symptoms of vertigo or imbalance usually occur together. Brain stem stroke can also cause double vision, slurred speech and decreased level of consciousness.
Risk Factors for Brain Stem Stroke
Risk factors for brain stem stroke are the same as those for strokes in other areas of the brain. These risk factors include, among others:
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- High blood cholesterol levels
- Heart Disease
- Atrial fibrillation
- Connectve tissue diseases
Like strokes in other areas of the brain, brain stem strokes can be caused by a clot or a hemorrhage. There are also rarer causes, like injury to an artery due to sudden head or neck movements.
Complications from Brain Stem Strokes
Like all strokes, brain stem strokes produce a wide range of injuries and long term deficits. Whether a survivor has minor or severe deficits depends on the location of the stroke within the brain stem, the extent of injury, and how quickly treatment is provided.
More severe brain stem strokes can cause locked-in syndrome, a condition in which survivors can move only their eyes but remain aware of their surroundings and circumstances. These usually result from basilar artery strokes and are the most feared of all strokes.
Treatment for Brain Stem Strokes
Complications from brainstem strokes are often predictable and treatable if they are promptly recognized. If complications are treated quickly, there is a good chance of recovery.
If a stroke in the brain stem results from a blood clot, the faster blood flow can be restored to the brain stem, the better the chances for recovery. Patients need to receive treatment as soon as possible to allow the best recovery.
A stroke is a medical emergency and needs to be treated immediately. Treatment of a basilar artery stroke is similar to that of any stroke. There are two main treatments for stroke thrombolysis (injection of medications to dissolve a clot) and thrombectomy (invasive techniques to remove a clot).
Treatment may include administration of “clot-busting” medications, which are effective as long as the patient has receives then within 3-5 hours of the onset of symptoms. They are called a “clot buster” medication because it acts to dissolve the clot.There are many different types of clot-busting medications
- Tissue plasminogen activator (tPA)
Clot-busting medications cause the blood to thin, which is how it dissolves the clot. If a stroke patient has high blood pressure, doctors must take immediate steps to reduce the blood pressure so that clot-busting medication, like tPA, can be given.
There are also interventional approaches that are available to remove blood clots from arteries around the brain stem, including a mechanical thrombectomy. A stent retriever is fed through the groin and up the circulatory system to the location of the clot.
The physician is able to visualize the procedure on a screen. The stent is pushed through the clot. A wire mesh is released that becomes entangled in the clot. A balloon is inflated stopping blood flow so pieces of clot are not released. The wire mesh and the blood clot caught in it are withdrawn from the artery and the vessel is cleared.
Malpractice for A Brain Stem Stroke
Like any stroke, malpractice can occur for multiple reasons, but the most common include:
- Delayed stroke diagnosis
- Delayed stroke treatment
- Improper discharge after stroke
- Poor planning and mismanagment of treatment for stroke
- Failure to transfer to a hospital better suited to treat stroke
- Inadequate medication for stroke
If someone you know someone who has suffered a brain stem stroke – or any stroke – it is critical that you speak with a stroke lawyer as soon as possible to evaluate your options.