What Is the Medulla Oblongata?

Sagittal section of the human brain, showing structures of the cerebellum, brainstem, and cerebral ventricles.
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The medulla oblongata, also known as medulla, is located at the lower base of the brain, joined to the spinal cord. It is located between the pons inferiorly and spinal cord superiorly. The area where the medulla oblongata is located is commonly known as the “brain stem”.

The medulla is considered to be the most important part of the brain. It is responsible for many vital yet involuntary functions including regulating blood pressure, heartbeat, articulate speech, swallowing and breathing.

The medulla transfers neural messages from the brain to the spinal cord.  A stroke of the medulla oblongata interferes with the neural messages and can result in paralysis on one or both sides of the body. Patients may require the use of a machine for breathing. Strokes in the medulla oblongata can also lead to coma.

Risk Factors for a Medulla Oblongata Stroke

Risk factors for a stroke of the medulla oblongata are the same as strokes in other areas of the brain. They can also be caused by a clot or a hemorrhage. In rare cases, an injury to an artery due to sudden head or neck movements may be a factor.

The main risk factor for a stroke is high blood pressure. Other risk factors include:

  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Diabetes
  • A family history of stroke
  • Elevated cholesterol
  • Age
  • Ethnicity
  • Heart disease
  • Venous insufficiency
  • Illegal drug use
  • Smoking
  • Physical inactivity
  • Women using hormone replacement therapy
  • Women who smoke and use birth control pills
  • Pregnant women

Symptoms of a Medulla Oblongata Stroke

A person may not know that they have had a stroke because it can depend on which part of the brain has been damaged. Typically stroke symptoms occur without warning and suddenly. The most severe symptoms occur when the stroke first happens and make get worse over time.

More severe strokes in the medulla oblongata can cause a locked-in syndrome, where patients are able to move only their eyes.

Some of the symptoms of a stroke include:

  • Severe headache that starts suddenly and gets worse when you change positions, bend, strain or cough
  • Double vision or loss of vision
  • Numbness in the arm, face or leg,
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Difficulty walking
  • Loss of balance or coordination
  • Trouble understanding or speaking
  • Hearing changes
  • Changes in personality, mood or emotion
  • Loss of smell and taste
  • Hallucinations or delusions

Diagnosis of a Medulla Oblongata Stroke

A stroke in the medulla oblongata can be difficult to diagnose. Patients may exhibit symptoms that are not typical of strokes – vertigo, dizziness and severe imbalance. It can also cause double vision and slurred speech.  Diagnostic testing includes radiological scans that allow the physician to look at a person’s brain. These tests typically include a CT scan, MRI, ultrasound or angiogram.

Recovery From a Medulla Oblongata Stroke

The extent and location of injury to the brain and how quickly a patient is treated once the stroke occurs will determine the type of recovery.

 Because strokes of the medulla oblongata usually do not affect the language area of the brain, the patient is able to participate more fully in rehabilitation therapy.

Reducing Risk Factors for a Stroke

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:

Also Known As: Medulla

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