Brain Stem Injury: Symptoms and Causes Explained

So much of what we do in our day to day lives is done without thinking. And yet, many of these daily functions are crucial to us not only living the lives we want to live, but even crucial to us staying alive. These functions include, breathing, heart rhythm, blood pressure, swallowing, and digestion. While these functions take place in our bodies without us thinking, that does not mean our brains are not involved in these vital functions. We can thank the interplay between the cerebral cortex and the brain stem for these thoughtless functions.  Thus, it’s easy to understand why a brain stem injury can have severe consequences.

Brain Stem Function

The function of the brain stem can be described as a relay station that passes messages throughout the body to and from the cerebral cortex. The brain stem is made up of three structures: the midbrain, pons, and medulla oblongata. The midbrain controls motor movement, particularly movement of the eye, along with auditory and visual processing. The pons of the brain stem is involved as messages from the cerebral cortex run through the pons as they are sent to the spinal cord. Lastly, the medulla oblongata controls our breathing, blood pressure, heart rhythms, and swallowing. Without the brain stem, our bodies would be two halves, the brain being one half and our bodies being the other half, that would be equally lifeless without each other. The brain stem brings these two halves together and we can live the complex, meaningful lives that we live every day without even knowing the important work that our brain stems are doing for each of us. However, if we are involved in an accident that causes a brain stem injury, the importance of the brain stem becomes unavoidably clear.

What happens when you damage your brain stem

When an accident causes brain stem damage, the affects can be devastating. In fact, destruction of the midbrain, pons, or medulla oblongata causes “brain death”, and the unfortunate victim of the injury cannot survive. And while damage to brain stem can cause death, even an injury that does not cause death, can cause significant brain stem injury symptoms. Because so many functions that are essential to survival are located in and pass through the brain stem, an injury to a person’s brain stem is often the most devasting injury a person can suffer short of death. For example, one injury a person can suffer after damage to their brain stem is locked-in syndrome, which is a condition in which a person is fully conscious, but the person cannot move or communicate, except through eye movements or blinking. Despite the devasting effects of the condition, a person suffering from locked-in syndrome can survive for decades in the vegetative state that the syndrome causes. Brain stem injuries can also impact a person’s memory, paralyze the individual, or even change a person’s personality. Also, because the brain stem controls basic bodily functions, any of those functions can be stopped or at least impaired when an injury occurs. Not uncommon is for a brain stem injury and breathing problems to occur hand in hand. This can result in a person being on a breathing machine for the rest of their lives. Even if a brain stem injury does not cause breathing problems, it can cause a litany of other problems and symptoms. For example, the brain stem can become compressed because of swelling, which can lead to hemorrhaging and an eventual stroke. Brain stem injuries are often severe, even resulting in death, but a lower brain stem injury, while potentially not as serious, can also cause a variety of problems. For instance, a lower brain stem injury can cause loss of consciousness for a few seconds to a few minutes. The injury can cause a person to be dazed, confused, and disoriented. The injury can also cause severe headaches, nausea or vomiting, fatigue or drowsiness, problems with speech, difficulty sleeping, or sleeping more than usual. While a brain stem injury can be temporary, the injuries can also be long lasting, and even permanent. This is true because the brain stem is located deep within the base of our brains, making them very difficult to treat and repair if damaged. Treatment often exists on two extremes – either no treatment can be done, or emergency surgery is required to try to save the person’s life. More often than not, victims of a serious brain stem injury will need hospice care, as they will no longer be able to care for themselves.

How brain stem injuries happen

Brain stem injuries can occur in a variety of ways from a brain stem injury car accident, to slipping and falling. A brain stem injury resulting from a car accident can even occur through whiplash. Slipping and falling can result in blunt force trauma to a person’s head, which can lead to the hemorrhaging mentioned above. One of the most common causes of brain stem injury are motorcycle accidents. If you have been involved in an accident and have suffered an injury to your brain stem, it is vital that you consult with an attorney. Brain stem injuries are often the most devasting injuries a person can suffer because the care the person will need after the accident is expensive and may be needed for the rest of the victim’s life. Furthermore, the injury may take away a person’s ability to work. Please contact Las Vegas personal injury attorney firm Valiente Mott for a free consultation today if you have been involved in an accident involving an injury to your brain stem. Valiente Mott is a Las Vegas personal injury lawyers firm specializing in representing accident victims. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you in your case! 

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