When any tissue in the body is injured there is a degree of swelling that results from bruising, chemical release and healing. But the brain is inside an enclosed skeletal shell, the skull. When the brain swells, even more damage can occur than in other parts of the body because of the reduced amount of space available for the swelling to spread. Doctors refer to swelling as cerebral edema, brain edema or elevated intracranial pressure. Edema is the medical term used to describe swelling and intracranial pressure refers to the amount of pressure that exists inside of the skull. The effects of swelling in the brain can result in both short-term and long-term changes that can ultimately cause significant alterations in the way you live your life.
Brain Swelling Causes
The brain can be injured and swell from a number of different causes and in a number of different locations in the skull. Causes range from traumatic brain injury, stroke, bleeding in the brain, infections, tumors and high altitudes. According to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, when the tissue in the brain swells it presses the remainder of the brain out of the way and up against the skull wall. This increased pressure will cause more damage by decreasing the amount of blood supply available to the compressed tissue. The pressure of the brain tissue may block the flow of cerebral spinal fluid which bathes the brain and provides nutrients and cushioning. When this fluid is unable to exit the brain more pressure builds up and causes more tissue damage.
The immediate symptoms of brain swelling will be seen as soon as there is sufficient swelling to cause damage to the brain or symptoms of lack of oxygen. According to Merck Manuals Online Medical Library common symptoms of a mild swelling or injury includes mild confusion, nausea, light-headedness and the sensation of spinning. These temporary and brief changes in function happen without damage to the brain when there is a mild injury. In a more severe injury the brain will have more swelling and tissue damage. You might experience some of the same symptoms but can also experience unconsciousness at the time of the injury. How long you remain unconscious is a function of the severity of the injury and the amount of damage to the brain tissue. You can also experience drowsiness, confusion, restlessness or agitation. As swelling continues to progress, you will have balance and coordination problems, vomiting and a change in the reaction of the pupils to light.
According to the Merck Manuals Online Medical Library, long-term effects can include headache, dizziness, fatigue, poor memory, inability to concentrate, trouble sleeping, difficulty thinking, irritability, depression and anxiety. These symptoms are often referred to as post-concussion syndrome and can linger for many months or several years depending upon the extent of the injury. According to the Center for NeuroSkills TBI Resource Guide, long term-effects also include cognitive difficulties such as attention and concentration problems, language skills problems, and memory disabilities. Reasoning skills, academic abilities, emotional stability, insight and initiative can also suffer long-term damage from brain swelling.