The Effects of an Occipital Lobe Stroke

An occipital lobe stroke is a stroke affecting the occipital lobe, which is the area in the back of the brain that plays a key role in vision and allowing us to recognize what we see. As such, occipital lobe strokes are primarily associated with changes in vision.

The blood supply to the occipital lobe leads to some unique characteristics of occipital lobe strokes:

  • Unlike most strokes, which almost always affect only one side of the brain, an occipital lobe stroke can affect one or both occipital lobes.
  • In general, occipital lobe strokes are relatively uncommon compared to strokes affecting the other lobes of the brain (frontal, parietal and temporal).
Symptoms of Occipital Lobe Stroke
Verywell / Jiaqi Zhou

Visual Changes

An occipital lobe stroke can cause a variety of visual changes, which include partial vision loss, complete blindness, and visual hallucinations, as well as some unique visual syndromes.

The occipital lobe is not completely uniform, and the regions within the lobe play different roles in integrating vision. The varied visual problems that can result from a stroke in this area depend on which region within the lobe is affected.

The occipital lobe doesn't have to be damaged for stroke-related vision changes to occur. Strokes in other regions of the brain can cause vision changes, as well.

Homonomous Hemianopia

When the stroke affects most of the occipital lobe on one side of the brain, the visual problem that arises is called homonymous hemianopia. This describes loss of half of the vision out of each eye.

A stroke survivor who has homonymous hemianopia is not able to see objects that are on the opposite side of the stroke. A stroke affecting the left occipital lobe of the brain would cause a stroke survivor to have difficulty seeing objects on the right side.

This problem typically affects both eyes—meaning you can't see the right side from the right eye and also can't see the right side from the left eye. Often, homonymous hemianopia isn't perfectly symmetrical, as visual integration from the eyes may not be impacted equally.

Central Vision Defect

The occipital pole is the area of the brain where central vision is processed. Central vision describes what you see at the center of your visual field when you are looking straight ahead.

Therefore, a stroke affecting the occipital pole would cause you to have a large blind spot in the very middle of your visual field on the affected side.

A person with central vision deficit caused by a stroke of the occipital pole would have trouble seeing the face of a person standing directly across from him or her.

For example, the stroke survivor may not be able to see the person's nose, upper lip, and the lower half of the eye on the affected side, but would still be able to see the person's shoulder and the top of their head.

Occipital pole strokes are quite rare.

Cortical Blindness

When the occipital lobes of the brain are completely affected by a stroke, the result is a type of total vision loss called “cortical blindness,” which means the vision loss comes from damage to the cortex of the brain.

Cortical blindness involves several additional symptoms:

Some stroke survivors are aware that they cannot see, while others aren't aware of the blindness and experience visual hallucinations. The is often called Anton syndrome or Balint syndrome, depending on certain factors.

Some occipital stroke survivors suffer from a condition called visual anosognosia, which is characterized by the brain ignoring one side of vision.

Some other symptoms and syndromes associated with occipital stroke include:

Causes

Three arteries that run along the back of the neck—called the vertebral arteries, the posterior cerebral arteries, and the basilar arteries—supply oxygenated blood to the occipital lobes. If blood supply one or both the occipital lobes is interrupted, a stroke results.

Occipital lobe strokes are uncommon because the blood supply to the occipital lobe is arranged in a unique way.

The three arteries that provide blood to the back of the brain connect with each other in some areas. That allows them to provide redundant blood supply, and they often compensate for each other.

This prevents a lot of strokes in the regions in the back of the brain because when one small artery is obstructed, another one may provide adequate blood flow.

Because of the arrangement of the blood vessels that supply the occipital lobe, sometimes an occipital lobe stroke is accompanied by a cerebellar stroke or a brainstem stroke.

A Word From Verywell

A stroke can cause serious changes in vision, including vision loss and strange patterns of vision.

Changes in vision after a stroke can have a major impact on lifestyle, particularly when it comes to driving and returning to work.

If you experience visual symptoms, you should seek medical attention right away, as vision changes may be the first sign of a serious medical problem, such as a stroke.

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