The brainstem is located directly above the spinal cord. It helps controls involuntary functions like heartbeat, breathing, and blood pressure. Normal brainstem function is vital to survival. Nerves that are used for eye movement, hearing, talking, chewing, swallowing, and muscle movement are also controlled by the brainstem.

A brainstem stroke happens when the blood supply to the brainstem is interrupted. This type of stroke can result in death, since the damaged brainstem can no longer control the body’s vital functions.

Brainstem
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There are two main types of stroke: ischemic and hemorrhagic. An ischemic stroke is the most common type of stroke.

An ischemic stroke is caused by a blockage of the blood flow, which may be due to:

  • A clot from another part of the body like the heart or neck. The clot breaks off and flows through the blood until it becomes trapped in a blood vessel supplying the brain.
  • A clot that forms in an artery that supplies blood to the brain
  • A tear in an artery supplying blood to the brain. This is called an arterial dissection.

A hemorrhagic stroke is caused by a burst blood vessel. Blood spills out of the broken blood vessel and pools in the brain. This interrupts the flow of blood and causes a build up of pressure on the brain.