Thalamic Stroke Symptoms: What to Look Out For

Article by Moody Neuro

Right at the center of the brain is a walnut-shaped mass responsible for processing nerve signals for sensation, movement, and mental cognition. This is the thalamus, the designated “relay station” that transmits signals from the body to the brain and vice versa. Despite its small size, it has many complex functions and plays such an important role that a stroke in this part of the brain can result in various, often lifelong, health complications.

A stroke is a serious, life-threatening condition that must be treated as quickly as possible. Every second of delay in treating a stroke will worsen the odds of a patient’s survival. It is crucial, therefore, to be aware of its symptoms and recognize them as they are happening.

Understanding the functions of the thalamus makes it easier to recognize thalamic stroke symptoms. Learn more about thalamic stroke and its symptoms in this article.

The Thalamus

All biological, cognitive, and socioemotional functions involve passing signals from various parts of the body to the brain. As the signal relay center, the thalamus receives all signals before they are routed to the cerebral cortex for processing. Almost all information about motor movement and sensory information passes through the thalamus.

  • Sensory information – The thalamus supports information processing for taste, touch, hearing, and sight. It does not support information processing for smell; the olfactory cortex is responsible for smell.
  • Motor information – The thalamus transmits all nerve signals for voluntary and involuntary movement through motor pathways through and from the brain.
  • Cognitive function and memory recall – As part of the limbic system, the thalamus is involved in processing and regulating thinking (as in learning), memories, emotions, and arousal. It also helps us focus our attention and filter out the unnecessary information bombarding our senses all at once.
  • Mood and motivation – The thalamus is involved in emotion processing and is critical in regulating mood and motivated behaviors.
  • Consciousness – The very nature of the thalamus’ functions makes it the gateway to consciousness, helping us stay awake and alert to our bodies and surroundings.

Inside the thalamus are various nuclei, each responsible for processing sensory impulses from specific parts of the body. For example, the dorsomedial nucleus becomes active when a person is organizing, planning, and using higher cognitive thinking. When you move and do physical activities, the ventrolateral nucleus lights up. The pulvinar and lateral geniculate nuclei interpret what we see, while the medial geniculate nucleus helps us understand what we hear.

All these bodily and cognitive operations become compromised when a stroke occurs. Therefore, symptoms of a thalamic stroke involve irregularities in these functions.

What Is a Thalamic Stroke?

A stroke is a non-traumatic brain injury characterized by a disruption of blood flow to the brain. Without blood to deliver oxygen and nutrients, the affected brain cells and tissues quickly deteriorate and die. A thalamic stroke occurs when blood flow to the thalamus is constricted or stopped.

Strokes, in general, are either ischemic or hemorrhagic. 

  • Ischemic stroke – This is due to blocked blood vessels, usually involving a clot.
  • Hemorrhagic stroke – This happens when blood vessels rupture and blood pools where it shouldn’t, depriving some parts of the brain of the vital oxygen and replenishments it needs.

Regardless of the cause, people who suffer a stroke manifest immediate side effects. In the case of thalamic stroke, patients exhibit symptoms involving motor movement, cognitive processing, and sensory function.

Common Thalamic Stroke Symptoms

The following are the most common and telltale signs of thalamic stroke:

1. The known symptoms of a stroke – People who experience a stroke show similar symptoms, which are abbreviated in an awareness campaign known as “BE FAST.”

  • B – Balance poblems, specifically loss of balance exacerbated by dizziness or a headache.
  • E – Eyes, referring to blurred vision, double vision, involuntary eye movements, or total loss of sight in one or both eyes.
  • F – Face, half of which will be noticeably droopy due to sudden facial weakness.
  • A – Arms and legs become weak, usually manifesting as hemiparesis or one-sided muscle weakness.
  • S – Speech suddenly becomes garbled and often nonsensical, but the patient may be unaware that their words don’t make sense.
  • T – Time, a reminder to call 911 immediately if someone has one or more of the above symptoms.

Regardless of where the stroke occurs in the brain, any or all of these symptoms may be present. If you or someone you know suddenly stumbles, loses balance, or walks with an unstable gait; complains of sudden sight problems; slurs their words and becomes incomprehensible mid-conversation; suddenly feels weak on one side of their body, and/or half their face droops, call a medical emergency hotline immediately.

2. Thalamic pain – People who suffer thalamic stroke experience a burning, freezing sensation along with intense pain in the head, arms, or legs. Also called central pain syndrome, it is essentially a mixture of pain sensations that is similar to what people with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) feel.

3. Loss of pain perception – Since the transmission of sensory impulses becomes disrupted when a stroke occurs, some patients may experience the opposite of thalamic pain and become unable to perceive pain signals instead. For example, they may become unable to discern temperature changes and can’t tell if something is hot or cold.

4. Behavioral and mood changes – Given the role of the thalamus in mood regulation, abrupt and inexplicable mood and behavioral changes can also be a symptom of thalamic stroke.

5. Higher pain sensitivity – A side-effect of central pain syndrome, a patient suffering from thalamic stroke may develop exaggerated pain sensitivity in the face, arms, and legs.

Post-Stroke Side Effects

We’ve heard stories of people suffering and surviving a stroke without anyone’s knowledge. The brain was able to rewire itself and divert activity from the damaged tissues to the healthy areas (a natural process called neuroplasticity), making an unknown stroke patient a survivor.

This can also happen to people who suffer thalamic strokes. Survivors may exhibit the following side effects in the short term or long term, depending on the severity of their stroke.

  • Fatigue – Many thalamic stroke survivors experience physical and mental fatigue weeks or months afterward.
  • Hypersomnia – Another common experience of thalamic stroke survivors is hypersomnia, a sleep disorder that makes someone sleep longer than usual, but they will still wake tired and feel unrefreshed. Sleep disturbances are to be expected because the thalamus is also involved in sleep regulation.
  • Emotional volatility – There is a high chance that survivors will have difficulty managing their emotions. For example, a survivor can become highly irritable when they used to be good-natured before the stroke. Survivors may also experience depression and personality changes as the brain rewires sensory pathways within the limbic region. This is why neuropsychology and counseling are integral to a stroke recovery program.
  • Speech problems – Communication difficulties are a common after-effect of thalamic stroke. Patients may have difficulty understanding and speaking language during a stroke and after. Thus, many survivors must relearn speaking and communicating, as forming words and sentences will become challenging.

These side effects may be temporary, with patients improving and recovering lost abilities through physical rehabilitation. Unfortunately for others, these changes stay with them for the rest of their lives.

If someone you know manifests post-stroke symptoms, encourage them to consult a doctor. It’s better to be proven wrong than ignore the possibility and lose the chance to pre-emptively avoid another, more severe stroke.

Seek Personalized Care for Thalamic Stroke Patients

Learning and remembering the symptoms of a thalamic stroke can help you save lives. Time is essential for people who suffer a stroke as the window for recovery can be very narrow, sometimes down to a few precious minutes. The sooner someone you love receives treatment, the higher the chance of recovery. 

Every patient’s situation is unique, even if the circumstances and symptoms are similar. Factors like the patient’s health, self-discipline, and personal drive can affect their recovery. For this reason, it would benefit a thalamic stroke survivor to receive personalized care after their harrowing experience.

Moody Neurorehabilitation, an institution dedicated to the care and rehabilitation of people who have suffered brain injury, can provide the high-quality, personalized care you and your loved ones deserve. 

We are an industry leader in post-acute neurorecovery programs, providing every patient with highly specialized and comprehensive inpatient and outpatient care. We offer various treatment programs and therapies like counseling, speech therapy, physical rehab, occupational therapy, recreational therapy, and more. We are committed to helping patients relearn and acquire new skills to help them rejoin their community and enjoy a high quality of life. 

Our passionate and experienced specialists at Moody Neurorehabilitation are ready to help. Inquire today.


Strokes are medical conditions that affect millions globally. In the United States, more than 795,000 people have a stroke each year, with about 610,000 cases being first or new strokes. 

These can lead to a wide range of physical and cognitive impairments. Speech and language disorders are among the most common and most challenging consequences of strokes, occurring in about a third of stroke survivors. 

Understanding Stroke-Induced Speech & Language Disorders

Stroke-induced speech and language disorders significantly impact communication abilities. Among these, aphasia, dysarthria, and apraxia of speech are prevalent. Understanding how they are diagnosed and their specific symptoms can aid in prompt and effective management.


Aphasia is a common outcome of stroke, manifesting as difficulty in speaking, understanding, reading, and writing. There are many different types of aphasia, depending on the affected brain area, and are categorized based on the symptoms present:

  • Expressive Aphasia (Broca’s Aphasia): Characterized by broken speech, limited vocabulary, and difficulty forming complete sentences. Patients often understand what is being said to them but struggle to verbalize responses.
  • Receptive Aphasia (Wernicke’s Aphasia): Patients can produce fluent speech but may lack meaning or include nonsensical words. They often have significant difficulty understanding spoken language.
  • Global Aphasia: A severe form of aphasia where individuals have extensive difficulties with both speech production and comprehension.
  • Anomic Aphasia: Individuals have difficulty finding words, particularly nouns and verbs, making their speech sound vague.


Dysarthria is a speech disorder that affects 20-30% of stroke survivors. It occurs when stroke impacts the muscles responsible for speech, leading to slurred or slow speech that can be hard to understand. It is typically diagnosed through a physical examination and a series of speech evaluations conducted by a speech-language pathologist (SLP). 

It is characterized by the following symptoms:

  • Slurred or slow speech that can be difficult to understand
  • Monotone or robotic-sounding speech
  • Difficulty controlling the volume of speech, which may be too loud or too soft
  • Challenges with the rhythm and flow of speech, including rapid speech that’s hard to interrupt or slow, drawn-out speech
  • Respiratory issues affecting the ability to speak loudly or for extended periods

Apraxia of Speech (AOS)

Apraxia of speech is a neurological disorder characterized by difficulty sequencing the movements needed for speech. This is caused by the impact of the stroke on the brain’s pathways involved in producing speech. 

Patients with AOS know what they want to say but struggle to coordinate the muscle movements to articulate words correctly. This results in distorted speech, difficulty initiating speech, or the inability to accurately produce speech sounds or sequences of sounds. 

How Long Is the Stroke Speech & Language Recovery Time?

According to one study on post-stroke speech and language therapy, approximately one-third of stroke patients experience speech problems after a stroke. Many of these individuals begin to recover within a few months, with significant progress typically observed within three to six months.

In another study, 62% of subjects had speech challenges after suffering from a stroke. By six months post-stroke, 74% were able to completely recover their communication abilities. 

However, the figures above provide a general timeline for post-stroke speech and language recovery. Stroke speech recovery time is highly individualized and can vary depending on several factors. These can include the following:

  • Severity of the Stroke: More severe strokes often lead to extensive brain damage, resulting in longer and more challenging recovery periods for speech.
  • Location of the Brain Injury: The brain’s specific regions control different speech and language functions; damage to these areas directly impacts recovery complexity and duration.
  • Age and Overall Health of the Patient: Generally, younger patients with better overall health before the stroke tend to experience faster and more complete recoveries.
  • Pre-existing Conditions and Comorbidities: Conditions such as diabetes or hypertension can slow down recovery by complicating the overall health scenario and rehabilitation process.
  • Individual Variability and Resilience: Personal resilience, the support system’s strength, and the individual’s motivation significantly influence the pace and success of speech recovery efforts.

The first three months after a stroke is a crucial period for recovery, as a majority of stroke patients see the most significant improvement during this period. However, it’s also important to note that, although at a slower pace, recovery can continue well past the 6-month mark with continued therapy and practice. 

This underpins the importance of early intervention and ongoing rehabilitation efforts, including speech therapy, to maximize each patient’s recovery potential. 

What Does the Stroke Speech & Language Recovery Process Look Like?

The journey to regain speech and language after a stroke is multifaceted and varies significantly from one individual to another. Understanding the structured phases of recovery can provide insight into what patients and their families can expect during this challenging time. 

Here’s a closer examination of each phase in the stroke speech recovery process.

Initial Assessment and Diagnosis

Before recovery can begin, a thorough evaluation is conducted by a team of healthcare professionals led by an SLP. This assessment aims to identify the type and severity of the speech and language disorder, be it aphasia, dysarthria, or AOS. The evaluation may include cognitive-linguistic assessments, comprehension tests, speech production analysis, and functional communication measures. 

Based on this assessment, a personalized therapy plan is crafted to address the patient’s specific needs.

Acute Phase

The acute phase typically occurs within the first days to weeks following a stroke. During this period, medical stabilization is the primary focus, with healthcare teams working to manage the immediate effects of the stroke. 

Speech therapy may begin with simple exercises or assessments to gauge the patient’s abilities. However, intensive therapy usually does not start until the patient is medically stable. During the acute phase, the goal is to support overall recovery and prevent complications immediately after the stroke.

Subacute Phase

The subacute phase generally spans from two weeks to three months post-stroke and is characterized by more intensive speech therapy interventions. As the patient’s medical condition stabilizes, the focus shifts to active rehabilitation. Therapy during this phase is tailored to the individual’s specific speech and language deficits and may include:

  • Exercises to improve articulation, fluency, and voice control for those with dysarthria.
  • Language therapy to enhance understanding, speaking, reading, and writing skills in patients with aphasia.
  • Motor speech exercises and strategies to improve speech planning and production in apraxia of speech.

The subacute phase is crucial for taking advantage of the brain’s natural recovery processes and neuroplasticity, where the brain begins reorganizing and adapting to the loss of function.

Chronic Phase

The chronic phase of recovery extends from several months to years after the stroke. It focuses on long-term rehabilitation and adjustment to any residual speech deficits. During this time, patients may continue to see gradual improvements in their speech and language abilities, although the rate of recovery may slow. Therapy in the chronic phase often includes:

  • Advanced communication strategies to cope with ongoing challenges in daily life.
  • Maintenance exercises to preserve and enhance speech gains achieved in earlier phases.
  • Supportive technologies and aids, such as communication devices, to assist in effective communication.
  • Community reintegration activities to help patients return to as normal a life as possible, engaging in social, vocational, or recreational activities.

What Is the Role of Neuroplasticity in Speech & Language Recovery?

Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s fundamental property to change and adapt its responses to new experiences, learning, and environmental changes. This adaptive capacity enables the brain to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections.

When the brain, or a part of the brain, is damaged after a stroke, neuroplasticity is what allows the other parts of the brain to take over the functions of the damaged area. Through targeted rehabilitation and therapy, such as speech therapy for stroke survivors, patients can retrain other brain areas to perform the lost functions and facilitate recovery.

Enhancing Stroke Speech & Language Recovery Time

Adopting a comprehensive approach involving several key strategies is vital to enhance the stroke speech and language recovery time. This multifaceted approach can maximize the chances of regaining speech and communication abilities.

This comprehensive approach must incorporate the following strategies:

  • Early intervention to leverage the brain’s highest potential for neuroplasticity in the initial period following a stroke, significantly improving the chances for recovery.
  • Alternative communication strategies, such as gestures, writing, and visual aids, to help maintain communication during the recovery process. 
  • Adopting technology, including speech-generating devices and software applications designed for speech rehabilitation, for personalized exercises and continuous practice, which is vital for progress.
  • Providing continuous support from psychologists, support groups, and therapy to help manage feelings of frustration, depression, and anxiety, fostering a positive mindset essential for rehabilitation.
  • A healthy diet and lifestyle to supply essential nutrients that support brain function, along with regular physical activity, adequate sleep, and management of medical conditions.

Begin Your Post-Stroke Recovery Journey With Moody Neurorehabilitation

Moody Neurorehabilitation understands the complexities and challenges that come with post-stroke rehabilitation. We are dedicated to supporting patients and their families through this critical time with specialized care and personalized treatment plans.

Since our inception in 1982, Moody Neurorehabilitation has been a leader in brain injury rehabilitation. Our approach centers on providing comprehensive care tailored to each patient’s needs and goals. We believe in treating the whole person, not just the symptoms, to improve overall quality of life.

We invite you to start your recovery journey with us. Contact Moody Neurorehabilitation today to schedule a consultation with our experts. Let us help you navigate the path to recovery with care, compassion, and expertise.