Brain stem stroke death, Brain stem stroke death - All age groups are at risk!


A person permanently loses the ability to breathe and the potential for consciousness because they have no more brain stem functions. This is called brain stem stroke death. Such are kept on a ventilator that circulates oxygen through the bloodstream and keeps the heart beating.  Since the brain stem controls, significant body functions like balance, breathing, and swallowing. Any bleeding or blockage in the brain stem causes brain stem stroke as a result it affects the vital roles. When brain stem function is completely lost, a person is confirmed to be dead.

Let’s get to know all about brain stem strokes its diagnosis, recovery, and symptoms.

Brain stem stroke, what is it?

World Health Organization (WHO) stated that the second leading cause of death is stroke whereas disability is the third.

The brain stem is vital for receiving and relaying information through the body. Its located at the brain’s base. Stroke results when an artery is blocked or a blood vessel leaks and prevents blood supply to the brain.

The brain stem is responsible for significant body functions like:

  • Swallowing
  • Breathing
  • Hearing
  • Heart rate
  • eye movement
  • Blood pressure
  • facial movement and sensation

These strokes disrupt normal body functioning and result in permanent complications.

Brain stem strokes and their types

They are of two main types

1. Ischemic stroke: It occurs when clots build in thin and narrow arteries of the neck or head that eventually cut of the flow of blood to an area of the brain. This is the most commonly occurring type that accounts for around 87% of all brain stem strokes. About 10% affects the brain stem of all ischemic strokes.

Transient ischemic attack(TIA) is also called a warning stroke or a mini-stroke. This results when the brain had a brown interruption of blood supply. It has milder symptoms compared to full ischemic strokes that vanish in an hour.

2. Hemorrhagic stroke: Also called brain bleeds occur when weak blood vessels break open or leak. It created pressure and swelling leading to the damage of brain cells and tissues.

This is an uncommon type of all brain stem strokes and accounts for 40% of stroke deaths.

Brain stem stroke symptoms

Strokes in the areas of the brain can lead to a varied range of symptoms as it controls diverse motor body functions.

Brain stem strokes affect swallowing, heart rate, and breathing. Normally, the brain stem receives and distributes signals from the brain to different parts of the body. When brain stem strokes disrupt the signaling is disrupted and people experience symptoms physically. It includes weakness or numbness in the arms, face, or legs.

Common symptoms of brain stem stroke leading to death are:

  • Vertigo
  • A headache
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Doubled or blurred vision
  • Problem with swallowing and speech
  • Loss of balance

How does brain stem stroke lead to death?

If the supply of oxygen or blood supply is stopped and death can occur. This can be caused by:

  • Blood clot – blocks in blood vessel hinders the flow of blood through the body.
  • Cardiac arrest – the brain is starved of oxygen as the heartbeat stops.
  • heart attack– supply to the heart is stopped and it’s a serious medical emergency
  • stroke– a serious medical emergency that occurs when the brain has interrupted blood supply.

Brain death may also occur as a result of:

Diagnosing a brain stem stroke

The doctor will do imaging tests like MRI and CT after the person experiences symptoms of a stroke. The imaging tests will help to find out whether the stroke is hemorrhagic or ischemic. They may also suggest additional procedures like cerebral angiography, echocardiograms, and carotid ultrasounds.

Complications from brain stem stroke

Brain stem stroke affects the most necessary processes and motor skills like speech, spatial reasoning, and eye movements.

When a person has a severe and rare type of brain stem stroke they will have full-body paralysis except for the muscles responsible to control eye movement. It is called locked-in syndrome.

Treatment for death causing brain stem stroke

Brain stem stroke needs to be immediately treated as it a medical emergency. Treatment depends on the location, type, and severity of the brain stroke to save lives.

1. Ischemic stroke

Ischemic stroke is treated by eliminating clots and restoring blood flow.  Methods include the following:

  • Anti-platelet drugs: The doctor might recommend aspirin when the person is at high risk of stroke or a heart attack and a low risk of bleeding. Regular use of aspirin for most people is not recommended.
  • Endovascular therapy: a surgical procedure that removes blood with the help of mechanical retrievers.
  • Clot-busting drugs: Drugs like plasminogen activator (tPA), help restore the flow of blood to the affected area and dissolve the clot.
  • Stents and balloons: These are other devices used to dilate or open the narrowed blood vessels. This improves blood flow.

2. Hemorrhagic stroke

Its treatment targets reducing pressure in the brain and controlling bleeding.  Treatment methods include the following:

  • Drug administration: Done to prevent seizures and control blood pressure against arterial walls.
  • Coil embolization: A surgical procedure that helps in forming clots in weak vessels. Eventually, the clot prevents the blood vessel from breaking opening again and reduces bleeding.

Doctors will perform surgical procedures to restore broken blood vessels and prevent hemorrhaging again after the bleeding in the brain is controlled.

Risk factors for brain stem stroke

A stroke occurs in anyone but is more specific in those with genetic factors like history, race, age, gender puts some at higher risk for stroke.

Women have more strokes and die compared to men according to the American Stroke Association.

Risk factors that are unique to women include:

  • Pregnancy
  • Use of birth control pills for long term with smoking.
  • usage of hormone replacement therapies

The majority of strokes occur in those above 65 in age. Hispanic and African – American descended people are also at higher risk.

So, research suggests that the presence of stroke risk factors and stroke hospitalization rates increased among young adults.

Medical conditions that hike stroke risk are:

  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity and diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease(CVD)
  • Arterial fibrillation
  • High blood pressure.

Though people cannot control genetic factors but can definitely control their lifestyle factors that increase the risk. Such as

  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Use of drugs illegally
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Poor diet
  • Smoking tobacco

Prevention of this serious issue

Nearly, 80% of cases related to strokes can be prevented. They can be avoided by changing lifestyle according to the following:

  • Control blood pressure with behavioral change and medication. monitoring lipid and cholesterol levels
  • Ensure diet with vegetables and fresh fruits
  • Quit smoking
  • Engage in moderately intense aerobic exercise for at least 150 mins per week
  • Intake of low-sodium and low-fat foods
  • Having medical conditions like diabetes under control.


 If you are above 65 improve your diet, change your lifestyle if you have any risk factors mentioned. If you are young it doesn’t mean you are safe. Ensure to include all the preventive measures and follow a healthy lifestyle to lower the risk. We cannot control natural disasters but we can those that are caused by us!


Subin Joshua
Author: Hi there, my name is Subin Joshua, and I am a Medical student. I grew up in a family of teachers and know that being a social worker is my calling. My passion for helping others has been evident in my involvement in helping the poor and needy for the last three years. Through those experiences, I have learned to interact with a diverse group of people, which has increased my ability to relate to others.