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Dizziness, vertigo and brainstem strokes

By February 22, 2008

When a patient in the emergency room announces that he is feeling "dizzy", doctors find themselves having to figure out exactly what this person means by the word "dizzy". "Dizziness" is a word with a vague meaning which can make it difficult for a physician to find out the cause of a person's symptoms. Some people for instance will say they are dizzy when they are light-headed and nauseous. Other people will say they are dizzy when they feel anxious, when they have low blood sugar, or when they experience blurry or double vision. Yet others, will say they are dizzy when they have a feeling that the world is spinning around them (i.e., vertigo).

What does this have to do with stroke? Many benign conditions can make people lightheaded, nauseous,or anxious, but out of the many conditions that can cause people to feel vertiginous, a brainstem stroke is one of the most dangerous ones. Brainstem strokes must be treated emergently, as the brainstem controls many of our most important functions, such as our ability to breathe. This is why every time an emergency room doctor hears a person say "I am dizzy", he/she must make sure this person is not actually feeling vertigo, which would suggest that his or her symptoms might be caused by a dangerous brainstem stroke.

A handful of treatments are available for brainstem strokes, but for these treatments to be effective they have to be implemented rapidly after a person first notices their symptoms.

Recommended reading: How Are Strokes Treated?

February 25, 2008 at 12:09 am
(1) sonya says:

If anyone feels that they have had a stroke , they know first hand on how fast this happens. Sometimes we are not prepared mentally or physically to think straight in the emergency. If you or a family member need alittle extra support , I recommend responselink medical alarms and pendants

February 26, 2008 at 11:12 pm
(2) Ilham says:

Stroke is dangerous because it makes the one dead. My mother passed away due to this illness. I heard stroke can be normalized in order to be healthy with arrangement nerve and blood flow by pennasia normalization (dot com). Some people had got this treatment and got well.It is natural and scientific recovery.

March 30, 2008 at 12:30 pm
(3) Michelle says:

This is very serious and should be taken that way. My fiance went into the hospital on Thursday with a headache and dizziness. What was found by Friday morning is that he suffered a massive brainstem stroke. He passed away on Saturday morning, he was 33. His death left me behind with alot of unanswered questions…

May 19, 2008 at 11:22 am
(4) Faye says:

Too often these symptoms of dizziness, in addition to a headache get dismissed as a mild concussion or a migraine.

That is what happened to my 7 year old son when I took him to the ER after colliding with another soccer player. We were lucky, the symptoms faded after my son was rehydrated to counter for the frequent vomiting that accompanied the dizziness and headache. However when the weekend CT scan was evaluated by a neurologist on Monday, he noted an irregularity “that required close follow-up”. Unfortunately we were never notified.

So 6 weeks later my son had a fully developed brainstem stroke ( or series of TIAs that progressed to a full-blown stroke in a matter of hours). Again he was never properly diagnosed, and became completely “locked-in”, and in coma. When he woke up from his coma 3 days later, the only movement left to him was the blinking of the eyes.

PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, ER docs: YOU MUST always rule out the “worst possible” diagnosis, so no other child or young adult has to experience the devastation of a brainstem stroke.
Brainstem strokes are quite likely to occur in young adults.

November 17, 2008 at 12:14 am
(5) S. says:

My husband had symptoms of a sudden onset of serious vertigo, confusion, and hand tremor, and was taken to the emergency room. After six hours, he was given only an aspirin. Posters on all the walls throughout the hospital announced how important it was that strokes be promptly treated, and described the symptoms as a warning to patients.

After four days of hospitalization and tests, it turned out that he had a brain aneurysm. Incredibly, he was then DISCHARGED with instructions to see a neurosurgeon OUTPATIENT, and told that he had an “incidental aneurysm.”

After more tests and an angiogram, a truly idiotic radiologist announced that my husband had migraines. If we had believed this incompetent boob, my husband would now be DEAD.

As it developed, after much insistence on further examination and treatment by COMPETENT doctors, my husband had an aneurysm in his brainstem that had leaked, causing a brainstem stroke. Further bleeding into the brainstem was prevented only by a clotting in the artery; his life was literally hanging by a tiny thread the entire time he was hospitalized, and for the next two weeks afterward, until he underwent surgery to repair the aneurysm.

He still has visual and balance problems, but thank God, he is alive.

This is an unusual case, but the lesson learned is very important: stick to your guns. Don’t listen to a doctor who is talking out of his hat, and outside of his field of expertise. If you know something is wrong, say so. Insist on treatment, promptly, and if you don’t get it, insist again, and again. Make sure that you understand, and if you don’t, continue asking questions until you get the answer, and the treament, that you deserve.

Your life may very well depend on it.

February 9, 2009 at 9:23 pm
(6) Justin says:

Thanks all for sharing your stories. I too suffered a brainstem stroke 3 weeks ago. I was lucky.. I had vertigo, numbness on my left side, pain behind my eye that was all written off to an allergic reaction to something and anxiety because they did not find anything on the CAT scan. After it did not clear up I went back to the emergency room at which point they gave me an MRI which is when the found evidence of the stroke.. ER DOCTORS!!!! PLEASE- If someone comes in complaining of these symptoms DO NOT rely on CAT scan alone. It will not always show the signs that your looking for.. As stated was lucky.. I recovered after receiving some fluids to a point where a day later I was walking with no Virtigo. I stll have numbness on my left side, but am hoping that will go away.. By the way- I am 32 years old.

May 2, 2009 at 12:32 am
(7) Rycky Latham says:

My name is Ricky,I was 49 years old, when I suffered a brainstem stroke. We had come back from our vacation, when I first started having headaches. I thought it was because my left eyes pressure was up, you see I have glocuma.Three days later, I had the stroke. The hospital my wife took me to, said; Don’t worry, he’s just had a light stroke. That was on a Monday. By Wed. nite, I was in ICU on a ventilator barely alive.A team of doctors were on my case. They came out that Wed. nite and told my family, if I lived; I would be like Christopher Reeves, on a ventilator and in a wheelchair the rest of my life. I was in a locked-in state, only able to move my eyes. I stayed in ICU for two weeks. During that time, God spared my life. I’m in a wheelchair 95% of the time but, I can walk with the help of a walker. I spent four months in the hospital and the next two years in rehab. My whole body was effected. I have a lot of tightness in my legs and arms. My eyesight was worsened, my breathing and my endurance. Also, my balance. Early on in rehab. my ability to process information was hindered. Four years later, I’m still not where I want it to be. I give God all the glory! Plus I found out that working out three times a week has helped me to keep what little I do have maintained. In my second year, I experienced depression and paranoia. I started accusing my wife of being unfaithful. I put her through the meat grinder. Being a nurse in a nursing home, she had seen this a lot in male stroke victims. She loved and stayed with me thru out it all. I put her through this for a year. She finally suggested psy. therapy. I started just over a year ago and I’m happy to say, I’m a lot better. The doctors at the first hospital never did find out what kind of stroke it was I had. It was one year later while I was having a catscan at rehad., that I found out. Doctors and nurses everywhere should be made aware of this type of stroke.

May 13, 2009 at 1:50 am
(8) neha says:

My mom got the brain stem stroke around 1 and a half years back.She is still on bed with a little movement in right side of her body and able to follow minor commnads.She is having only one brain stem.Can any one tell where is the best treatment for this and how many chances of recovery are there?


May 18, 2009 at 7:25 pm
(9) George Vreeland Hill says:

My brother Nelson suffered a brainstem stroke a little more than two weeks ago (5/3/09).
During that time, he needed help to breathe.
He has not been able to speak or do much at all.
Nelson has been able to move his hands and legs with more movement on his left side than his right.
He can respond to left hand touch by squeezing with his hand.
He has opened his eyes from time to time.
His condition has remained the same with no changes until now.
He has been taken off of life support and is breathing sporadically.
I hope for the best.
I love you Nelson!


June 8, 2009 at 4:48 pm
(10) Quest says:

My brother had a brain stem stroke in February of 2007. I got him to the emergency room quickly. However, he is now partially paralyzed, cannot walk, and cannot swallow. I too have a lot of unanswered questions. He had no risk factors. I would like the TV and radio commercials about stroke to inform everyone that speed in getting treatment for a stroke may not make any difference.

June 16, 2009 at 3:20 pm
(11) Sam says:

My 75 y/o mother had a stroke on or around 6/3/09 she was hospitalized and we are very fortunate we still have her. She has some right sided weakness and the real problem is vertigo, every time she gets up she gets sick and vomits, anyone have any ideas to help she is due to get physical, occupational and speech therapy but cannot due the physical therapy because of her vertigo. She really needs the physical therapy to get stronger so she can go home. Any advice would be great!

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