What Is the Pons?

Normal human brain, MRI scan


The pons, also known as pons Varolii, is part of the brainstem, known as the hindbrain. It is located in the lower part of the brain that connects the cerebral cortex with the medulla oblongata. The pons contains nerve bundles that function to carry movement and sensory messages between the brain and the body. It coordinates movement and balance in the head, neck and body and plays a primary role in sleeping, dreaming, digestion, swallowing, breathing, eye movement and heartbeat.

There are two types of stroke: ischemic stroke and hemorrhagic stroke. A stroke occurs when a blood clot forms and prevents an artery from carrying blood from the heart to the body or when a blood vessel ruptures halting the flow of blood to the brain. Either way, brain cells begin to die resulting in brain damage. Abilities, controlled by the area of the brain where the stroke occurred, are lost. The amount of brain that is damaged depends on the location of the stroke.

Causes of a Pons Stroke

A stroke in the brainstem can be caused by either a blood clot or hemorrhage, just like strokes in other areas of the brain. In rare instances, a pons stroke may be the result of an injury to an artery due to sudden head or neck movement.

Symptoms of a Pons Stroke

Strokes that occur in the brainstem are difficult to diagnose because their symptoms are complex. A more severe brainstem stroke can cause locked-in syndrome where patients can only move their eyes.

Some of the symptoms of a Pons stroke include the following:

  • Balance difficulty
  • Vertigo
  • Double vision
  • Loss of coordination
  • Swallowing difficulty
  • Difficulty articulating words
  • Numbness
  • Weakness in one half of the body
  • Nausea

Diagnosis of a Pons Stroke

After a thorough neurologic examination, the following diagnostic tests may be performed:

  • CT angiogram
  • MRI

Risk Factors for a Pons Stroke

The risk factors for a stroke that occurs in the brainstem is the same as for strokes in other areas of the brain, including:

Treatment of a Pons Stroke

Treatment with a clot dissolving drug, tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) has been effective for patients with an ischemic stroke as long as the patient has received it intravenously within three hours of onset of symptoms. Endovascular treatment to deliver tPA at the site of the clot or retrieval of the clot is considered for those patients up to nine hours after a stroke.

Recovery After a Pons Stroke

Recovery from a pons stroke is possible. Strokes to the brain stem do not affect language ability and the patient is able to participate in rehabilitation therapy. Vertigo and double vision typically resolve after several weeks of recovery for strokes that had been mild to moderate.

Reducing Risk Factors for a Pons 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:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Losing weight
  • Increasing physical activity
  • Reducing alcohol intake
  • Eliminating illegal drug usage

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