Brain swelling, also known as cerebral edema in medical terminology is a serious neurological condition. Swelling can occur in any organ of the body. It is body’s response to any type of injury, infection or an overuse of that particular organ or part of the body. Brain edema can develop as a result of an injury to brain or infection in the brain. It may involve certain part of brain or the whole brain.
Brain swelling produces increase in intracranial pressure. Intracranial pressure prevents proper blood flow to the brain as a result the brain cells are deprived of vital food that is oxygen and glucose.Raised pressure in brain also blocks the cerebrospinal fluid which makes the matter worse. Edema in brain can cause damage to brain cells which may lead to cognitive and behavioral defect. Brain swelling needs to be treated immediately as the condition has fatal outcome if left untreated.
What Causes Swelling Of The Brain?
There are many causes that may lead to swelling of brain.
- Brain Injury: An injury on the head can damage the brain. Usually a severe injury to the skull such as in vehicular accidents, falling from a height, etc is responsible for swelling in brain. The injury can cause swelling of the brain tissue. The broken pieces of skull can injure the blood vessels which can lead to swelling of brain.
- Stroke and high blood pressure: Brain stroke caused due to ischemia of the blood vessel in the brain or hemorrhage inside the brain caused due to trauma or high blood pressure can cause cerebral edema.
- Infections: Bacterial infection or viral infection such as meningitis, encephalitis can cause swelling of brain tissues.
- Brain tumor: Edema of brain can be caused due to brain tumor. The growing brain tumor can compress the adjacent area of brain and block the circulating spinal fluid. These may cause rise in intracranial pressure and brain swelling. The growing blood vessels in and around the tumor can also cause brain edema.
- High altitude: Brain swelling can be one of the symptoms of high altitude sickness although not very common. The swelling is more likely to develop at an altitude 5000 feet and above. The condition is often accompanied with acute mountain sickness.
Signs And Symptoms Of Cerebral Edema
The symptoms of brain swelling may vary and depend on the underlying cause and severity of the condition. They are sudden in onset. Alteration in consciousness is one of the most important diagnostic features. Patient may be confused and may present with loss of consciousness.
Other common symptoms of brain swelling are blurring of vision, dizziness, headache, stiffness in neck, slurred speech, change in behavior, uncoordinated movements of limbs, nausea and vomiting, loss of memory, seizures, muscular weakness, weakness in one side of the body, drooping eye lids, lethargic behavior, high pitch drying and coma. The symptoms develop rapidly after the onset of brain swelling.
Treatment To Reduce Brain Swelling
Treatment of brain swelling depends on the underlying cause and its severity. Minor swelling of brain resulting from moderate altitude sickness or from mild brain concussion may resolve on its own. However, in majority of other cases treatment should be started as early as possible.
The main aim of treatment is see that the brain is provided with oxygen and blood for it to remain healthy. At the same time measures are taken to reduce swelling of brain and treat the underlying cause. This may require medications and in some cases surgery. Immediate treatment may cause less damage to the brain.