Brain Stem Injury

Facts about a Brain Stem Injury

Because the brain is such an efficient and autonomous organ, it is easy to take its importance for granted; a fact that people with a brain stem injury know only too well. 

About the brain

Despite the apparent ease in which the brain normally operates, it is a highly complex organ.  All of the physical, behavioral, cognitive and emotional functions that humans experience are based in the brain.  Because of its vital role in our very existence, the brain is well protected in several ways; from the exterior by being encased within the hard, bony structure of our skull.   Lining the inner cranium are three membranes, called meninges; lying between the skull and the brain in layers.  As further protection, between the second and third layers of meninges flows a clear liquid called cerebrospinal fluid.  This fluid is also present in the bloodstream, which offers a barrier between brain tissue and large molecules in the blood that present a potential danger.  These safeguards provide the brain with the greatest amount of protection; more than any other organ in the body.  However, injuries are still possible to any part of this vital organ, including the brain stem.

What is a brain stem?

There are numerous parts to the brain; each with their own responsibilities.  The medulla, or brain stem, has the responsibility of controlling many of the body’s physiological systems, including mobility, motor movement and central functions.  In fact, all information that is transmitted between the brain and various parts of the body will traverse through the brain stem.  Sitting directly on top of the spinal cord, the basic functions such as breathing, the heartbeat and blood circulation are carried forth due to the brain stem’s functions. 

Brain stem injury

Despite the body’s natural armor protecting the brain, injuries to the stem still occur on a frequent basis.  Causes for the majority of injuries to the brain stem are car accidents, followed by domestic abuse, violent crime and sports injuries.  There are three levels of injury that can occur:

In the most serious of cases, brain stem injury can cause death.  The severity of the symptoms or consequences in great part depends upon the severity of the injury.

Treatment for injury to the brain stem

The degree of injury suffered by the brain stem will dictate the treatment the individual receives.  When a concussion is confirmed, the injured individual will require supervision and monitoring for several hours following the incident.  Symptoms should improve within 24 to 48 hours; when they do not, a doctor should be consulted.  For mild cases, acetaminophen may be taken to relieve the headache felt; rest although not sleep should be encouraged.  Those who have suffered moderate to severe injury to the brain stem will require hospitalization, where a variety of tests will be performed to determine the extent of the injury and to begin treatment.  Blood pressure will need to be medically controlled, the pressure of fluid on the brain may be relieved, pain will be alleviated and the patient may be kept in a sedated state to hasten the healing. 

It is only when our most base functions of walking, talking and even breathing are disrupted that we truly appreciate the autonomy of the brain and brain stem.