Stroke in the occipital lobe: what it affects and how to recover
Source: Flint Rehab
A stroke in the occipital lobe often results in vision problems, as this area of the brain processes visual information from the eyes.
Aside from visual deficits, occipital lobe strokes also cause unique stroke symptoms that you must learn to recognize to help save a life.
Here you will find everything you need to know about occipital lobe stroke, also known as occipital lobe infarction.
Causes of occipital lobe stroke
A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is blocked by a clogged or burst artery.
When a blood clot clogs an artery in the brain, it is known as an ischemic stroke, which accounts for 87% of all strokes. A popped or ruptured artery, on the other hand, is known as a hemorrhagic stroke.
When part of the brain is deprived of oxygen-rich blood due to a stroke, brain cells begin to die. This can create serious complications, making stroke a medical emergency that requires prompt and immediate treatment.
Treatment for occipital lobe stroke
Once occipital lobe stroke patients arrive at the hospital for treatment, doctors can use a variety of blood-thinning drugs, such as tPA or aspirin, to restore blood flow to the brain after an ischemic stroke.
Hemorrhagic strokes often require more invasive treatment such as surgery (craniotomy) to stop bleeding and relieve pressure inside the skull.
Before we get to the side effects and rehabilitation of occipital lobe stroke, it is important to know how symptoms vary from those of other strokes.
Symptoms of occipital lobe stroke
A stroke can usually be identified by symptoms, such as:
- Facial drooping, when one side of the face sags
- Arm weakness, when one arm cannot be raised as high as the other
- Speak dragging the tongue, when the person cannot speak as usual.
When these symptoms are detected, time is of the essence for treatment!
Other less common symptoms of an occipital lobe stroke can include tingling, numbness, lightheadedness, severe headache or migraine, and vertigo.
An occipital lobe stroke can present unique symptoms related to vision, such as blurred vision, hallucinations, or even blindness.
If you ever have these symptoms, call 9-1-1 right away for emergency treatment. Time is brain and quick action can help save a life!
Once a stroke has been identified and treated, patients must work to overcome the side effects that can occur.
Side effects of occipital lobe stroke
The main deficit that occurs after a stroke in the occipital lobe involves vision problems.
There are many ways that vision can be affected after an occipital lobe stroke.
Here are the different types of vision problems after an occipital lobe stroke:
- Homonymous hemianopia. The occipital lobe spans both hemispheres of the brain. When the stroke affects the occipital lobe on one side, it can cause blindness on the opposite side of the visual field. For example, a stroke in the right occipital lobe can cause blindness on the left side of the visual field.
- Cortical blindness. When all vision is lost after an occipital lobe stroke, it is called cortical blindness. This differs from "normal" blindness in that the eyes are not affected, but the visual processing abilities of the brain have been severely compromised.
- Loss of central vision. Sometimes a stroke can affect a person's ability to see directly in front of them. While you can see around your periphery, you cannot see what is at the center of vision. This is known as loss of central vision.
- Visual hallucinations. In rare cases, an occipital lobe stroke can result in vivid hallucinations where patients see various images such as lights, sparks, colored pinwheels, etc.
- Prosopagnosia. This refers to " facial blindness " in which the patient cannot recognize faces. This can occur when the part of the occipital lobe that processes the faces has been impacted by the stroke. (This is also common in strokes in the right hemisphere.)
- Visual agnosia. This occurs when the patient cannot identify familiar objects and / or people with the naked eye.
- Alexia without Agraphia. Alexia refers to the inability to read or understand the written word. Agraphia refers to the inability to communicate in writing. Therefore, an occipital lobe stroke can affect a patient's ability to read or understand a word by looking at it; it is a visual problem, not a language problem.
Aside from vision, some occipital lobe stroke patients may also experience sensory problems such as numbness or tingling.
However, when stroke only affects the occipital lobe, studies have reported that patients often do not have "any significant neurological deficits other than visual field loss.
If the stroke affected more than just the occipital lobe, other side effects of the stroke may also occur.
Rehabilitation for occipital lobe stroke
Since most occipital lobe stroke side effects involve vision problems, rehabilitation will revolve around restoring sight and finding compensatory strategies to compensate for visual losses.
Talk to your doctor, who can refer you to a neuro ophthalmologist or neuro optometrist. It is important to consult specialists who understand the neurological impact of stroke on visual processing. A regular optometrist may not be able to help you.
After seeing a specialist, some treatment plans may include vision restoration therapy. These therapies take advantage of neuroplasticity after stroke, which involves the brain's ability to heal itself and form new neural networks.
Some occupational therapists also receive specialized training to help the visually impaired. Ella can also educate you on low vision safety strategies, such as placing brightly colored tape on the edge of stairs.
Organizations like Plasticity Brain Centers specialize in programs that can help you rebuild the connection between the eye and the brain. Some modalities used include eye movement training (eye exercises), hand-eye coordination exercises, or light therapy.
Vision is important for activities of daily living, so it is important to be careful and work with trained specialists when your vision has been affected by a stroke.
Overview of occipital lobe stroke
Participation in rehabilitation to take advantage of the brain's ability to heal itself is encouraged, especially during the first 3 months after stroke.
Some patients may experience a spontaneous recovery where their vision returns naturally. According to Healthline, this can take around 6 months, but it varies from person to person because every stroke is different.
Overall, there is hope for recovery from occipital lobe stroke. By working closely with your medical team, you can create a rehabilitation plan that will help you lead your new life after stroke.
Best of luck on the road to recovery.