Overview

Your occipital lobe is one of four lobes in the brain. It controls your ability to see things. An occipital stroke is a stroke that occurs in your occipital lobe.

If you’re having an occipital stroke, your symptoms will be different than symptoms for other types of strokes. The possible complications will also be unique.

Keep reading to learn more about this type of stroke.

Symptoms of occipital stroke

The main symptoms associated with an occipital stroke involve changes to your vision. You may experience:

  • blurry vision
  • hallucinations
  • blindness

The severity of your symptoms will depend on the severity of the stroke. Your symptoms will also differ depending on the part of the occipital lobe that’s affected by the stroke. For example, if the stroke affects the central part of the lobe, you’ll be unable to see objects in your direct line of sight.

A complete loss of vision including rays of light is an emergency situation and you shouldn’t ignore it. Get immediate medical help if this occurs. Complete loss of vision may lead to permanent blindness. You may also experience sensory loss, including pain.

Causes of occipital stroke

Obstruction in the arteries causes approximately 87 percent of strokes. This kind of stroke is an ischemic stroke. An example of an obstruction is a blood clot. Another cause of stroke is a leaking blood vessel or a blood vessel that ruptures in the brain. This is called a hemorrhagic stroke. Leaking or ruptured blood vessels cause approximately 13 percent of strokes.

Occipital strokes occur when you have an obstruction or hemorrhage in the posterior cerebral artery. This is one of the arteries in the brain.

Risk factors for stroke

High blood pressure, or hypertension, and diabetes are two of the biggest risk factors for stroke. Fifty to 70 percent of strokes occur in people with high blood pressure.

High blood pressure increases the pressure placed on your arteries. This can damage the walls of your arteries. Damage to the artery walls can cause them to thicken and narrow.

Additional risk factors are:

  • a history of stroke or ministroke
  • a family history of stroke
  • a higher-than-normal number of red blood cells
  • presence of a carotid bruit, which is a sound that comes from your artery that occurs due to narrowing of the arteries
  • drug use, such as the use of cocaine or amphetamines
  • smoking
  • obesity
  • an inactive lifestyle
  • the use of birth control pills or estrogen replacement therapy

Your risk of stroke also increases with age. Starting at the age of 55, your risk of stroke more than doubles every ten years.

People with occipital strokes are often younger, and have a lower systolic blood pressure and lower cholesterol levels than people who have other types of strokes.

How is occipital stroke diagnosed?

Your doctor will review your signs and symptoms with you. They’ll review your medical history, perform a physical exam, and run any relevant tests.

During your physical exam, your doctor will check you balance and coordination abilities and assess your alertness. They’ll also perform a series of diagnostic tests if they suspect you’ve had a stroke.

They may order the following diagnostic tests and procedures:

  • A brain CT can help your doctor find damaged brain cells or bleeding on the brain.
  • MRI uses radio waves and magnets to create images of your brain. Your doctor can use these images to identify damage to your brain tissue and cells that occurs due to stroke.
  • A CT arteriogram and a magnetic resonance arteriogram will allow your doctor to see the large blood vessels in your brain. This will help them determine if you have a blood clot.
  • Carotid ultrasound uses sound waves to create images of your carotid arteries from the inside. This will help your doctor identify if you have narrowing arteries from plaque buildup.
  • Carotid angiography uses X-ray and dye to display your carotid arteries.
  • They can use echocardiography and an electrocardiogram to evaluate the health of your heart.

Blood tests

Your doctor may also order blood tests if they suspect a stroke. A blood glucose test may be done because low sugar can cause symptoms similar to stroke. Your doctor may also want to test your platelet count to see if your counts are low. If your count is low, it may indicate a bleeding issue.

When to get emergency medical help

The symptoms of a stroke include:

  • lightheadedness
  • numbness
  • tingling on one side of your body
  • difficulty expressing your thoughts or ideas
  • difficulty with speech
  • a severe headache that lasts for a longer length of time
  • a change in vision, such as loss of vision on one side, loss of vision straight on, or a complete loss of vision

Stroke is a medical emergency. It’s important to receive treatment right away. If you think you may be having a stroke, call 911 or your local emergency services immediately.

Treatment for occipital stroke

Treatment depends on the severity of the stroke and any complications you may have. If you have vision problems, your doctor will refer you to a neuro-ophthalmologist or neuro-optometrist. They’ll determine a rehabilitation plan that should help restore some of your vision or help you to adjust to any vision loss.

Your doctor may recommend compensatory vision therapy, which uses prisms to shift images from the field of your vision that’s impaired to your functioning field of vision.

Vision restorative therapy is a noninvasive therapy that stimulates the neurons in your brain to help your brain reorganize the neural connections. This can improve your vision.

What is the outlook?

It may take about six months before you see any improvement in your visual field following an occipital stroke. Each person’s recovery is unique, though, and your recovery time can vary from weeks to years. Some people may fully recover while others will have impaired vision or other complications for the rest of their lives.

You may require ongoing emotional support, rehabilitation, and medications. Continue to see your doctor and take medications as recommended. You should also participate in any rehabilitation plan your doctor recommends.

Tips for prevention

You may not be able to prevent a stroke, but you can reduce your risk by doing the following:

  • Learn to manage your stress with coping skills.
  • Follow a healthy diet.
  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes most days of the week.
  • Quit smoking or using tobacco products.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Limit your alcohol intake.

Many things you can do to prevent stroke are lifestyle changes that you can control.