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National Brain Injury Month Feature: Brain Stem Injuries and Herniation

March is National Brain Injury Awareness month. This is the time of the year when there is a lot of focus on the cause and treatment of brain injuries, and what society can do to alleviate the suffering of those whose injuries are life threatening, or those individuals whose injuries leave them with a lifetime of total dependency on others for their everyday needs.

While any type of brain injury is serious, because it affects the organ that controls every other part of our body, some injuries are more severe than others. Some forms of brain stem injuries resulting in brain herniation will fall into that category.

Brain Stem Injuries

Brain stem injuries are caused by the violent pushing of the brain against the skull resulting in some form of head trauma and ultimately, loss of oxygen to the brain. Severe brain stem injuries may be fatal, or may cause the injured person to become comatose, or to have lifelong disabilities from brain damage.

It is estimated that over 1.5 million people suffer from a brain stem injury in the United States, and that an estimated 2 million Americans are currently living with some form of disability as a result of a brain stem injury.

Concussions are brain stem injuries that can cause brief unconsciousness and some memory loss, depending on the severity of the injury.

Brain stem injuries may be caused by an accident, or an illness such as a brain tumor. They are catastrophic in that they affect our autonomic nervous system which controls all the major functions of our body, including our heart and breathing. Since these types of injuries are usually caused by some form of trauma to the head, or illness (brain tumor) resulting in brain swelling, they can lead to brain herniation. See Chicago Brain Damage.

Brain Herniation

A brain herniation is the potentially fatal side effect of very high pressure within the walls of the skull that happens when part of the brain is pushed side to side and across structures within the skull, very much like the “shaken baby syndrome.” This pushing may cause the brain to be pushed across the “falx cerebri” (which is the structure that separates the two hemispheres of the brain); the “tentorium cerebella” (that portion of the brain that separates the cerebellum from the inferior portion of the occipital lobes); and even pushed through the “foramen magnum” (which is the hole at the base of the skull where the brain and the spinal cord connect).

Effect of Herniation

Herniation is often fatal because it cuts off the blood supply to various parts of the brain. When the blood supply is cut off, the brain tissue dies, and there is no way to rejuvenate it.

After a head injury the brain may start to swell, pushing up against the walls of the skull that will not allow the brain room to expand. This pushing may result in further brain injury due to bleeding, sometimes even portions of brain tissue being pushed through the opening where the brain and spinal cord meet.

If there is a mass, such as a tumor in the brain, the same thing may happen. The swelling may result in the brain shifting from its usual position to an abnormal position in the skull causing brain herniation.

What Are the Risks?

Any injury that causes the brain to swell may lead to herniation. The most common causes are (1) trauma causing bleeding in the brain; (2) a growing brain tumor; and (3) a blow to the head severe enough to cause a brain contusion.

Some brain injuries may be caused by the misdeeds of others, whether accidentally or intentionally. There are remedies available for individuals who have suffered such injuries. To find out what those remedies are, you should consult with an experienced brain injury attorney.

Brain injury leading to either disability or death as a result of brain damage is a very serious matter. To consult with an experienced brain injury attorney on this issue, or if you or a loved one is suffering from a brain injury or a brain trauma due to the actions of another, contact Levin & Perconti at (312) 332-2872 for a free consultation.