What Are the Causes and Effects of Brain-Stem Injuries?

Your brain stem is located at the top of the spinal cord. An injury to the brain stem can affect multiple body functions, including motor and sensory functions. Depending on the severity of the injury, a person could sustain debilitating impairments from a brain stem injury.

What are the Effects of A Brain Stem Injury?

The brain stem connects the brain to the spinal cord. Trauma to the brain stem can interrupt critical body functions such as:

  • breathing;
  • heart function;
  • swallowing;
  • blood flow;
  • heat regulation;
  • consciousness.

The brain stem is a hub for communications to and from the brain and other parts of the body. Damage to the brain stem could prevent your body from signaling to your brain that you are hungry or thirsty. Your body may be unable to signal that you need to go to the bathroom.

The effects of a brain injury depend on the location of the damage. The brain stem is made up of three structures:

  • Damage to the Medulla Oblongata affects blood pressure, breathing, respiratory functions, and heart rate.
  • Damage to the Midbrain can cause problems with hearing, sleep, vision, motor control, and temperature regulation.
  • Damage to the Pons may result in problems with swallowing, taste, bladder control, hearing, eye movement, posture, and equilibrium.

Any injury to the brain stem could result in impairments and disabilities throughout the body. In some cases, a person may have difficulty walking and talking. The damage could result in permanent disabilities.

What are the Causes of Brain Stem Injuries?

The brain stem can be injured in an accident or through intentional acts of violence. In many cases, a person is involved in an accident that results in trauma to the head. The head trauma does not need to be severe or catastrophic to damage the brain stem.

Common causes of brain stem injuries include, but are not limited to:

Any accident or event that causes traumatic brain injury or other head injuries could result in damage to the brain stem. The best way to minimize long-term complications and effects of brain stem injuries is to seek medical treatment immediately after an accident.

What Are the Symptoms of a Brain Stem Injury?

As with other head and brain injuries, the symptoms of a brain stem injury vary depending on the severity of the injury and the location of the injury. Symptoms may develop immediately following the accident or within a few days or weeks. In some cases, symptoms are mild and worsen with time.

Common symptoms associated with brain stem injuries include:

  • Loss of Consciousness (not always present)
  • Problems with Balance or Coordination
  • Dizziness
  • Slurred Speech and/or Blurred Vision
  • Problems Swallowing or Coughing
  • Vomiting or Nausea
  • Sleep Problems, including insomnia and abnormal sleep patterns
  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Inability Controlling Movement
  • Paralysis
  • Altered Heart Rate
  • A Decrease in Motor Function
  • Loss of Certain Reflexes or Bodily Functions
  • Loss of Smell or Sense
  • Repetitive Jerky Eye Movements or Fixation of Pupils to Light

Brain stem injuries may result in complete paralysis except for eye movement and comas. Immediate medical attention is the key to preventing further damage and complications after a head injury.

Treatment and Recovery for Brain Stem Injuries

Treatments for brain stem injuries depend on the type and severity of the injury. A person may require extensive therapy and rehabilitation after a brain stem injury. In some cases, a person may not regain full occupational and physical abilities.

In most cases, the person begins with a hospital stay. Depending on the injury, a neurosurgeon may recommend surgery to help repair the damage.

Once a patient is stable, the patient may be moved to an extended care facility or nursing home for vocational and occupational therapy. Some individuals may be treated at home with the assistance of in-home nursing and personal care assistance.

The cost of a brain stem injury can be enormous. The recovery period could take months or years. Some individuals are never able to return to work or normal activities.

If someone caused the accident that resulted in a brain injury, you might be entitled to compensation for your damages and losses. A brain injury lawyer can review your case to determine if you have a claim against one or more parties.

However, your time to file an injury claim is limited by law. It is generally in a person’s best interest to seek legal advice as soon as possible after sustaining a brain injury.