Brain Stem Infarct

What is brain stem infarct?

A brain stem infarct is a type of stroke (interrupted blood supply to the brain) affecting the brain stem, the part of the brain above the spinal cord which regulates breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate. People with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cardiovascular diseases (such as heart attacks or previous strokes) or who have family members with these conditions are at increased risk. Typical symptoms include dizziness, vertigo, imbalance, and impaired vital functions like breathing and heartbeat. Recovery after a stroke depends on the size of the area of brain which was involved. In some cases, this can be a life threatening condition, though this is uncommon. Many people recover well with physical therapy and treatment of the cause of their stroke.

Risks

Brain stem infarcts are caused by an interruption in the blood supply to the brain stem, either due to a blockage in the blood vessels (ischemic stroke), or due to bleeding in the brain stem (hemorrhagic stroke). This condition is more common in men, and becomes more common with age. People with atrial fibrillation (an abnormal heart rhythm), high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cardiovascular diseases and family history of stroke or mini-stroke are at increased risk of stroke. Smoking, alcohol abuse and physical inactivity also increase the risk of developing this condition.

Symptoms

The symptoms can be very different from person to person, and depend on the area of the brain affected. Common symptoms are dizziness, imbalance, hearing loss and double vision. Some people lose feeling or become weak in their face, arms or legs. Some people experience persistent hiccups, nausea, vomiting or breathing difficulties.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis is usually made by an experienced doctor or neurologist based on the symptoms, a clinical examination, and a CT (computer tomography) or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan of the brain. A Doppler ultrasound of the neck arteries and an angiography may also be performed to look for blockages in other blood vessels. Other tests may include an electrocardiogram and blood tests for kidney and liver function.

Treatment

A possible brain stem infarct requires urgent review by a doctor. The treatment is dependent on the type of infarct, and symptoms. If bleeding has caused the stroke, this may need to be stopped using a clip or coil. If blockage in a blood vessel has caused the stroke, these can be dissolved with help of medication. The long-term treatment depends on the consequences of the stroke, but physical therapy and speech therapy are helpful. Some people may need to take medication to thin the blood in order to prevent another stroke.

Prevention

Regular exercise, losing weight, and giving up smoking, alcohol or drug abuse can help prevent the chances of a stroke. High blood pressure, atrial fibrillation and diabetes should be well controlled in order to reduce the risk of stroke.

Other Names for brain stem infarct

  • brain stem stroke
  • brainstem infarction