A stroke affecting the brain stem is particularly concerning because this area of the brain controls such vital bodily functions as breathing and the heart's ability to beat. Brain stem stroke treatment requires immediate medical care, as this condition can be fatal, especially without immediate medical attention. Supportive care may be needed at the hospital to keep organs such as the heart and lungs working. Medications may be prescribed, and depending on the severity of the damage to the brain stem, physical therapy or other continuing care may be required.
A brain stem stroke may cause a variety of symptoms, ranging from difficulty moving normally to paralysis or coma. In some cases, the heart may stop beating properly, or breathing may become difficult or impossible. Any time a stroke in the brain stem is suspected, emergency medical care is essential. An ambulance should be called if at all possible because supportive care such as oxygen therapy may be needed before the patient even arrives at the hospital.
Once at the hospital, a small tube known as an IV is usually inserted into a vein so that any necessary medications can be delivered directly into the bloodstream. Fluids may be introduced through this IV as well to keep the patient hydrated. Oxygen therapy is generally used to ensure proper oxygen flow to the brain, although additional breathing help may be necessary in some cases.
Blood pressure levels are often high following a stroke, so brain stem stroke treatment often involves the use of medications to lower the blood pressure. If the blood pressure is lowered too rapidly, additional health problems could develop. For this reason, blood pressure levels are closely monitored throughout treatment.
After the patient is out of crisis mode, medical tests such as x-rays and CT scans may be used to determine the extent of the brain damage. Additional medications may then be used in an attempt to prevent additional brain stem strokes. The patient will typically be advised to refrain from smoking and to improve diet and exercise practices.
Many patients who suffer a brain stem stroke will go on to eventually make a complete recovery. Others may need either temporary or permanent supportive care. Some patients who have had a brain stem stroke may benefit from physical therapy, while others may never awaken from a coma. Each stroke is different, and the medical team at the hospital will recommend a course of treatment before the patient is released to leave the hospital.