Causes and Treatment of Basilar Artery Stroke

The basilar artery is composed of two vertebral arteries that have joined together. These are the vessels that are the main supply of blood to the back of the brain. This area of the brain, known as the brainstem coordinates movement and balance and plays a primary role in sleeping, digestion, swallowing, breathing, vision and heart rate.


There are various conditions that may affect the flow of blood flow to the brainstem. A stroke that occurs in the brainstem is either caused by a blood clot or hemorrhage. In some cases, a brainstem stroke may be the result of an injury to an artery as a result of sudden head or neck movement.

Similar to risk factors for stroke, causes of a basilar artery stroke include the following:

  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Elevated cholesterol levels
  • Rupture of an arterial wall
  • Connective tissue diseases
  • Vasculitis
  • Orthopedic condition of the neck


Strokes due to occlusion or bleeding of the basilar artery can cause a variety of symptoms which include paralysis, difficulty breathing, swallowing, double vision, coma, and even death.

Some of the common symptoms of a basilar artery stroke include the following:

  • Balance difficulty
  • Vertigo
  • Double vision or loss of vision
  • Loss of coordination
  • Swallowing difficulty
  • Difficulty pronouncing words
  • Numbness
  • Weakness in one-half of the body
  • Nausea
  • Memory loss
  • Incontinence
  • Headache
  • Sweating


Strokes that occur in the brainstem are difficult to diagnose because their symptoms are complex. The following tests may be conducted to confirm a diagnosis:

  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • Computed tomography angiogram (CTA)
  • Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA)
  • Ultrasound
  • Blood tests
  • Echocardiogram
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)
  • Holter monitor
  • Cerebral Angiography


A stroke is a medical emergency and needs to be treated immediately. Treatment of a basilar artery stroke is similar to stroke in general. Treatment may include administration of intravenous tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) as long as the patient has received it within three hours of the onset of symptoms.

Reducing Risk Factors

While certain risk factors as age, gender, heredity, and ethnicity are uncontrollable, a patient with risk factors for a stroke can reduce their risk of stroke by beginning treatment that controls their risk factors and adjusts their lifestyle choices.

Ways to control risk factors for a stroke include:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Losing weight
  • Exercising
  • Reducing alcohol intake
  • Using blood-thinning drugs to prevent the formation of clots
  • Proper blood pressure control
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