A basal ganglia stroke is a type of stroke that affects the basal ganglia. This part of the brain plays a vital role in relaying messages, controlling movement, and moderating emotions.

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts and releases blood into the brain tissue. If either of those occur in a part of the brain called the basal ganglia, it is a basal ganglia stroke.

Symptoms of a stroke include sudden weakness on one side of the body, a loss of balance and coordination, confusion, headache, and difficulty speaking. Other, more unusual symptoms that may occur with a basal ganglia stroke include flattened emotions, apathy, and slow or delayed movements.

Any stroke is a medical emergency and needs urgent attention.

In this article, find out what a basal ganglia stroke is, how it affects the body, and what to expect if it happens.

diagram of brain with basal gangliaShare on Pinterest
Diagram showing the position of the basal ganglia.

Blood carries oxygen to the brain. When there is a restriction or stoppage to the blood flow to an area of the brain, the brain cannot receive enough oxygen. As a result, oxygen deprivation injures brain cells in that area, and they die.

A collection of cell bodies called the basal ganglia lies deep in the center of the brain. The basal ganglia serve as the message center for a range of bodily functions.

This message center is responsible for various functions, such as:

  • movement control and learning
  • behavior
  • emotions
  • executive functions, the mental processes that enable people to do things, such as planning, focusing, remembering instructions, and multitasking

Like other types of stroke, a basal ganglia stroke can happen in different ways for different reasons. Here are some of the main types.

Ischemic stroke

An ischemic stroke happens when a blood clot blocks a vessel carrying blood to the brain. The blood is unable to reach cells in the brain, and they begin to die.

Hemorrhagic stroke

A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when blood leaks from a burst, torn, or unstable blood vessel into the brain tissue. The buildup of blood can create swelling and pressure, which can lead to brain damage.

Many basal ganglia strokes are hemorrhagic strokes that result from high blood pressure.

Transient ischemic attack (TIA)

Also known as “mini-strokes,” a TIA occurs when there is a blockage of blood flow to the brain for a short time, usually no longer than 5 minutes. It can be a warning sign that a more severe type of stroke will happen. As many as 10–15% of people who have a TIA experience a major stroke within the next 3 months.

Childhood basal ganglia stroke

In 2016, a study looked at 35 children aged 6 months to 12 years who had a basal ganglia stroke. Of these, 74% resulted from head trauma.

Of the remaining children without head trauma, the study found one child with this type of stroke linked with chicken pox, two with Moyamoya disease, one with high levels of homocysteine in the blood, and in four children, the cause was unclear.

Moyamoya disease is a rare condition that involves blocked arteries in the basal ganglia.

Strokes have a common set of signs and symptoms. Knowing these can enable a person to take action that might save someone’s life or reduce the risk of severe disability.

Typical symptoms include:

  • sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg on one side of the body
  • sudden confusion, speech difficulties, or cognitive problems
  • a severe headache
  • trouble walking and a loss of balance and coordination
  • sudden vision difficulties in one or both eyes
  • a droopy, uneven smile

A basal ganglia stroke can present differently, which might make it harder to identify than other types of stroke.

Here are some features that may occur:

  • apathy
  • reduced or slow movement
  • memory problems
  • flat emotions
  • lack of initiative
  • lack of restraint regarding social conventions
  • delayed actions
  • loss of awareness of one side of the body

Anyone who notices these symptoms in themselves or others should seek immediate medical attention.

How do you recognize a stroke?

Treatment for a basal ganglia stroke depends on the type of stroke and how quickly a person receives medical attention.

Depending on the reason for the stroke, among other factors, a doctor may recommend:

  • “clot-busting” drugs to break up a clot
  • a procedure to repair a broken blood vessel
  • surgery, for example, to clip an aneurysm and stop bleeding
  • a procedure to reduce blood pressure, if high blood pressure has caused a basal ganglia stroke

A person will also likely need long-term follow-ups and rehabilitation.

A stroke can be life threatening, and people who survive, often experience changes that affect their daily life. While some make a full recovery, others may have changes that can affect almost every aspect of their life.

Recovering from a stroke can take time. It is not possible to predict how long it will take or what degree of recovery is possible because each person is different and there are many ways a stroke can affect an individual.

Experts note that it can be very difficult to predict how a person will recover after a basal ganglia stroke.

Factors affecting recovery

The effects on a person and their recovery prospects will depend on factors, such as:

  • how quickly the person receives treatment
  • how targeted their treatment is
  • which part of the brain the stroke affects
  • the extent of the damage

Long-term effects

A stroke can cause long-term effects, and it may take months or years for a person to improve. In some people, the changes may be permanent.

Possible lasting effects include:

  • Changes in movement: A person may be unable to move fully, have muscle spasms, or have difficulty controlling movement, for example, in their hand.
  • Effects on mental health : Mental health issues include depression and mood changes.
  • Pain: A person may start to notice pain on their affected side starting 2–3 months after a stroke.
  • Changes in thinking: Confusion can make it hard to make decisions and think logically.
  • Incontinence: Bowel and urinary incontinence may occur.
  • Speech problems: A person may have difficulty speaking, understanding speech, or both. They may forget words or mix them up.

Rehabilitation

During recovery, a person can benefit from ongoing therapy, such as:

Many people also need help with daily living, and some may need to spend time in residential care. Walkers, home adjustments, and other forms of support can help a person stay active and independent.

Life after stroke: 10 tips for recovering communication skills.

Research

The authors of a 2020 study note that basal ganglia strokes can affect the basal ganglia in various ways. They recommended tailoring rehabilitation to address the specific damage and effects an individual has experienced.

In 2020, some researchers found that using a type of imagery, known as diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), may help identify the extent and type of damage to the basal ganglia. They concluded that DTI may help predict how likely a person is to make a good recovery.

Some people have a higher risk of a basal ganglia stroke than others.

Research suggests that people with calcifications on their basal ganglia may have a higher risk of a basal ganglia stroke. These calcifications are more likely to exist in people who are older and have a lower body mass index (BMI).

Other factors that increase the risk of a stroke include:

  • a personal or family history of stroke or TIA
  • high blood pressure
  • heart and blood vessel diseases, such as atrial fibrillation or high LDL cholesterol
  • diabetes
  • smoking
  • a brain aneurysm, as this increases the risk of bleeding in the brain
  • being under the age of 1 or an older adult
  • having anxiety, depression, or high stress levels
  • various health problems, such as kidney or sickle cell disease
  • using some medications, such as blood thinners
  • having obesity or a higher BMI
  • not getting regular physical activity
  • using certain recreational drugs, such as cocaine
  • a high alcohol intake
  • not having a balanced diet

In the United States, Alaska Natives, Native Americans, Black, or Hispanic adults are more likely to experience a stroke.

A 2020 research article notes that there are racial disparities in the prevention and treatment of stroke, with Black, Latino, and Asian Americans in the United States having a higher risk of not getting the help they need. The authors call for greater equity at all levels of stroke awareness and treatment.

It is not always possible to prevent a stroke, but some lifestyle choices can help, including:

While it is not possible to prevent every risk factor, people can start taking steps immediately to reduce the possibility of a stroke.

Here are some questions people often ask about a basal ganglia stroke.

What happens if you have a stroke in the basal ganglia?

A basal ganglia stroke affects a part of the brain that is essential for movement, language, mood, and other crucial functions.

Some symptoms are common to any type of stroke, but a basal ganglia stroke may also lead to changes in emotions, movement, and initiative.

A person may appear flat in mood and move slowly. In some cases, the typical signs and symptoms may not appear, and changes can be subtle.

Can you recover from a basal ganglia stroke?

Some people recover fully, but it will depend on how the stroke affects the brain, the extent of the damage, how soon they get treatment, and individual factors, such as age.

A basal ganglia stroke can lead to long-term problems with movement, speech, and other functions. In some cases, it can be life threatening.

A basal ganglia stroke is a type of stroke that affects the basal ganglia. This part of the brain holds many crucial nerves, including those that play a key role in movement, speech, and emotions.

Anyone who shows signs or symptoms of a basal ganglia stroke needs urgent medical attention. Getting immediate help may save a person’s life or help prevent severe complications during and after recovery.