What is a thalamic stroke?
Strokes are caused by a disruption of blood flow to your brain. Without blood and nutrients, your brain tissue quickly begins to die, which can have lasting effects.
A thalamic stroke is a type of lacunar stroke, which refers to a stroke in a deep part of your brain. Thalamic strokes occur in your thalamus, a small but important part of your brain. It’s involved in many crucial aspects of your everyday life, including speech, memory, balance, motivation, and sensations of physical touch and pain.
What are the symptoms?
Thalamic stroke symptoms vary depending on the part of the thalamus that’s affected. However, some general symptoms of a thalamic stroke include:
- loss of sensation
- difficulties with movement or maintaining balance
- speech difficulties
- vision loss or disturbance
- sleep disturbances
- lack of interest or enthusiasm
- changes in attention span
- memory loss
- thalamic pain, also called central pain syndrome, which involves burning or freezing sensations in addition to intense pain, usually in the head, arms, or legs
What causes it?
About 85 percent of all strokes are ischemic. This means they’re caused by a blocked artery in your brain, often due to a blood clot. Hemorrhagic strokes, on the other hand, are caused by a rupture or leakage of a blood vessel into your brain.
A thalamic stroke can be either ischemic or hemorrhagic.
Are there any risk factors?
Some people have a higher risk of having a thalamic stroke. Things that increase your risk include:
How is it diagnosed?
If your doctor thinks you may have had a thalamic stroke, they’ll likely start by taking an MRI or CT scan of your brain to determine the extent of the damage. They may also take a blood sample for further testing to check for blood glucose levels, platelet counts, and other information.
Depending on your symptoms and medical history, they may also perform an electrocardiogram to check for any cardiovascular conditions that may have caused your stroke. You may also need an ultrasound to see how much blood is flowing through your arteries.
How is it treated?
A stroke is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical treatment. The specific treatment you’ll receive depends on whether the stroke was ischemic or hemorrhagic.
Ischemic stroke treatment
Treating strokes caused by a blocked artery usually involves:
- Clot-dissolving medication to restore blood blow to your thalamus
- Clot removal procedure using a catheter for larger clots
Hemorrhagic stroke treatment
Treating a hemorrhagic stroke focuses on finding and treating the source of bleeding. Once the bleeding has stopped, other treatments include:
- stopping medications that can thin your blood
- medication to reduce high blood pressure
- surgery to prevent blood from flowing out of the ruptured vessel
- surgery to repair other faulty arteries that have a risk of rupturing
What’s recovery like?
Following a thalamic stroke, full recovery can take anywhere from a week or two to several months. Depending on how severe the stroke was and how quickly it was treated, you may have some permanent symptoms.
If your stroke was due to a blood clot, your doctor may prescribe blood thinners to prevent future clots. Similarly, they might also prescribe blood pressure medications if you have high blood pressure.
Depending on your overall health, you may also need medication for:
- high cholesterol
- heart disease
Physical therapy and rehabilitation
Your doctor will likely recommend rehabilitation, usually within a day or two of having a stroke. The goal is to relearn skills that you might have lost during the stroke. Roughly two-thirds of people who have a stroke require some level of rehabilitation or physical therapy.
The type of rehabilitation you’ll need depends on the exact location and severity of your stroke. Common types include:
- physical therapy to compensate for any physical disabilities, such as not being able to use one of your hands, or to rebuild strength in stroke-damaged limbs
- speech therapy to help you regain lost speech abilities
- cognitive therapy to help with memory loss
- counseling or joining a support group to help you adapt to any new changes and connect with others in a similar situation
Once you’ve had a stroke, you have a higher risk of having another one. You can help to reduce your risk by:
- following a heart-healthy diet
- quitting smoking
- getting regular exercise
- managing your weight
As you recover, you’ll likely need a combination of medication, rehabilitation, and lifestyle changes. Read more about what to expect as you recover from a stroke.
- “My Stroke of Insight” is written by a neuroscientist who had a massive stroke that required eight years of recovery. She details both her personal journey as well as general information about stroke recovery.
- “Healing the Broken Brain” contains 100 questions frequently asked by people who’ve had strokes and their families. A team of physicians and therapists provide expert answers to these questions.
What’s the outlook?
Everyone recovers from strokes differently. Depending on how severe the stroke was, you may be left with permanent:
- memory loss
- loss of sensation
- speech and language problems
- memory problems
However, these lingering symptoms may improve over time with rehabilitation. Remember, having a stroke increases your risk of having another one, so it’s very important to stick to the plan you and your doctor come up with to reduce your risks, whether it involves medication, therapy, lifestyle changes, or a combination of all three.
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