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What Occurs if the Brain Stem Becomes Damaged?

Mon 29 Apr, 2024 / by / Injuries

The brain is a fragile thing, and any damage can be significant. Many parts of the brain can become damaged, and the damage can vary. A brain injury can range from mild concussions to severe brain damage and can have a wide range of effects on cognitive, physical, and emotional functioning. The severity and extent of brain damage depend on the cause, location, and duration of the injury or condition. One part that can become damaged that is critically important to human functioning is the brain stem. This can be very devastating, resulting in severe and life-threatening consequences, and often comes with a poor prognosis. Here is what to expect if the brain stem becomes damaged during injury.

What Is the Brain Stem?

The brain stem, which includes three main components, is a vital part of our central nervous system. It connects the brain to the spinal cord and plays a crucial role in controlling many basic life-sustaining functions. These include the rate and depth of breathing, heart rate and blood pressure stabilization, sleep and wake cycles regulation, swallowing and the digestive process, balance and movement coordination, and alertness.

How Does Brain Stem Damage Happen?

Damage to the brain stem can occur in various situations, such as car accidents, sports injuries, falls, or any instance involving a head impact. However, they can be caused by a wide variety of incidents, including:

  1. Traumatic Brain Injury: A strong jolt to the head or body can result in brain stem damage. This can happen due to car accidents, falls, sports injuries, or physical assaults.
  2. Stroke: A blockage or rupture of blood vessels supplying the brain stem can lead to a stroke, which damages brain tissue due to a lack of oxygen and nutrients.
  3. Hypoxia or Anoxia: Reduced or complete lack of oxygen supply to the brain, known as hypoxia or anoxia, can result in brain stem damage. This can occur due to drowning, choking, cardiac arrest, or respiratory failure.
  4. Tumors: Brain tumors, either originating from the brain stem or spreading from other parts of the brain or body, can cause damage by putting pressure on the brain tissue and disrupting its function.
  5. Infections: Infections such as meningitis, encephalitis, or brain abscess can affect the brain stem, leading to inflammation, swelling, and damage.
  6. Inflammatory Conditions: Conditions like multiple sclerosis or autoimmune disorders can cause inflammation and damage to the brain stem.
  7. Degenerative Diseases: Progressive neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or multiple system atrophy (MSA) can affect the brain stem over time, leading to damage and dysfunction.
  8. Vascular Malformations: Abnormalities in the blood vessels, such as arteriovenous malformations (AVMs) or aneurysms, can rupture or cause blockages, leading to brain stem damage.
  9. Toxic Exposure: Exposure to certain toxins, chemicals, or drugs can cause brain stem damage and neurological symptoms.
  10. Genetic Disorders: Rare genetic disorders affecting the nervous system can lead to abnormalities in the brain stem and its function.

What Damage Results From Brain Stem Injury?

  • Breathing: As the brain stem controls the rate and rhythm of breathing, damage can lead to respiratory failure, requiring immediate medical intervention to support breathing.
  • Heart Rate and Blood Pressure: The brain stem helps maintain a stable heart rate and blood pressure, but damage can cause irregular heart rhythms, fluctuations in blood pressure, or cardiovascular collapse.
  • Alertness and Consciousness: Since the brain stem plays a crucial role in controlling levels of consciousness, arousal, and alertness, damage can result in decreased consciousness, coma, or even a vegetative state.
  • Sleep and Wake Cycles: Due to the brain stem’s regulation of sleep and wake cycles, damage can disrupt normal sleep patterns, leading to insomnia or excessive sleepiness.
  • Swallowing and Reflexes: The brain stem controls essential functions like swallowing, coughing, and sneezing. Damage can impair these functions, leading to difficulties with eating, drinking, and managing oral secretions.
  • Balance and Coordination: As the brain stem plays a role in maintaining balance and coordinating movements, damage can result in dizziness, imbalance, and difficulties with walking and coordination.
  • Eye Movements and Pupillary Responses: Because the brain stem controls eye movements and pupil dilation/constriction, damage can cause double vision, blurred vision, or abnormal pupil size and reactions.
  • Facial Muscles and Sensation: As the brain stem controls facial muscles and sensations, damage can lead to facial weakness, numbness, or tingling.
  • Cranial Nerves: The brain stem houses several cranial nerves responsible for various sensory and motor functions, including vision, hearing, and facial sensations. Damage can affect these nerves, leading to symptoms such as double vision, hearing loss, or facial paralysis.

What Should I Do If My Head Has Been Injured?

Many people think that it is obvious if someone has suffered a traumatic brain injury. In some cases, it is obvious. However, other times, it may be readily apparent. Symptoms of a brain injury can manifest days or even weeks following the accident. Here are some signs of brain damage:

  • Dizziness
  • Breathing irregularities
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Rapid, jerky eye movements
  • Vision impairment

If there is any suspicion of brain stem damage, immediate medical attention is crucial to diagnose the underlying cause, provide appropriate treatment, and prevent further complications. Treatment may include supportive care, medications, rehabilitation therapies, and surgical interventions, depending on the specific situation and needs of the patient.

Contact a Brain Stem Injury Attorney 

When a person’s brain stem is injured, the prognosis is typically poor and is a devastating diagnosis for the family. If you or a loved one has suffered a brain stem injury due to someone else’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other damages. An experienced brain stem injury attorney can help walk you through the process of filing a brain stem personal injury lawsuit from information gathering to getting a settlement or a verdict.