Exploring the Causes and Effects of Brain Stem Injuries

The brain stem is located in the posterior region of the brain. It serves as the main connective trunk between the brain and the spinal column in mammals, including human beings. This vital piece of human physiology controls various bodily functions, including breathing, digestion, and heartbeats.

Many voluntary functions are also performed by the brain stem. These include facial movements and motor control. The brain stem is the primary pathway of communication from our brains to the rest of our bodies. Because of its importance in the daily functions of life, few brain injuries are more severe than those involving the brain stem. Often, injuries to the brain stem are often dangerous, devastating, and life-threatening.

Brain Stem Function

Because the brain stem connects the spinal column to the brain, it is crucial to the proper operation of basic bodily functions. 

The brain stem is necessary for:

  • Heartbeat regulation
  • Circulating blood throughout the body
  • Control of body temperature
  • Breathing (both voluntary and involuntary)
  • Swallowing
  • Normal psychological functioning (conscious awareness)

The brain stem delivers information to the rest of the brain from the other physical systems in your body. The brain tracks important information using the brain stem, which can then communicate back with other vital organs.

Regions of the Brain Stem

The brain stem consists of three main parts:  The pons, the midbrain, and the medulla oblongata. These components work together to maintain and control normal physiological performance. Each region of the brain stem controls a number of bodily functions.

The Pons

The pons is located on the upper part of the stem. The pons is partly responsible for regulating the respiratory system, swallowing, balance, processing sound, taste, movement of the eyes, facial muscle movement, bladder control, and posture. When the pons sustains damage, any of these functions may become impaired.

The Midbrain

This middle region of the brain stem is associated with the visual system, auditory processing, voluntary motor function, sleep regulation, and maintaining body temperature.

The Medulla Oblongata

The Medulla Oblongata is located at the bottom of the brain stem. This trunk-like structure is responsible for many functions of the autonomic nervous system. These include breathing, regulating blood acidity, and many common reflexes (such as vomiting, coughing, and sneezing). 

When someone suffers damage to one or more of these brain stem components, they can face a range of outcomes that cause distress. Unfortunately, some of the consequences of brain stem injuries are lifelong.

If you have suffered from a brain stem injury caused by an accident, you may have the right to seek compensation. Contacting a qualified personal injury attorney gives you the best chance of securing financial recovery.

Types & Causes of Brain Stem Injuries

There are a number of things that can cause trauma to the brain stem. For instance, certain types of bodily injury may cause the spinal cord to be severed, ligaments surrounding the spinal column to be torn, or vertebrae to become hyperextended. 

Many kinds of accidents can result in damage to the victim’s brain stem. Car accidents and motorcycle collisions are some of the leading causes of brainstem injuries. To drastically reduce the likelihood of these injuries, it’s important to use protective measures like wearing a seat belt or a helmet.  

Brain stem damage can also occur as the result of a falling accident. This is especially true when the victim falls from a significant height, like a ladder, tree, window, or rooftop. 

Sadly, children are particularly susceptible to brain stem injuries when they engage in physical and recreational activities. Head trauma and hyper-flexion of the neck are common causes of these injuries. Falls from playground equipment, skateboard, and bicycle accidents, or contact sports can all result in damage to the child’s brain stem. When engaging in these physical activities, protective gear is essential. 

If your child has been hurt in an accident, check for symptoms associated with a brain stem injury. Immediate medical attention may be necessary. If another party caused the child’s accident, speak with a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer to seek the financial recovery that you may be owed.

Symptoms of Brain Stem Damage

Because the three regions of the brain stem are responsible for so many of our bodily functions, the symptoms of this type of injury can vary widely. If you have been in an accident, symptoms of a brain stem injury may not be obvious at first. Other symptoms are severe and potentially deadly.

Some potential symptoms of brain stem injuries include:

  • Impaired speech
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Sleep apnea
  • Uncontrollable eye movement
  • Loss of sense of smell
  • Fixed pupils
  • Inability to swallow
  • Changes to personality
  • Loss of memory
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Coma
  • Paralysis
  • Heart or lung failure that potentially results in death

These are only some of the physical symptoms that can be caused by this type of injury. Never self-diagnose a brain stem injury. If you believe you have sustained a brain stem injury, seek care from a qualified medical professional. A physician may request an imaging test, such as a CT scan, MRI, or angiogram, in order to diagnose your injury.

Treatments for Brain Stem Injuries

Due to its positioning deep inside the lower brain, there are only a few fully restorative treatments available for brain stem injuries. 

If the damage to the brain stem is the result of a blood clot (brain stem stroke), surgery may be necessary. Other types of brain stem injuries may require brain surgery, as well. If neurosurgery is necessary, the following therapies may be useful during the rehabilitation process:

  • Speech Therapy:  This can assist the victim as they seek to relearn skills such as swallowing or speaking.
  • Physical Therapy:  This type of therapy is useful for regaining motor skills lost because of an injury.
  • Psychological Counseling:  Psychological counseling can help some victims to manage their emotional trauma or the realities of serious injuries that impact their daily lives.

Brain stem injury victims may face a range of extreme difficulties and challenges. These may be physical, psychological, or financial hardships.

If you or someone you love has suffered from a brain stem injury because of another party’s negligence or carelessness, you should not have to bear the financial burden on your own. Contact a personal injury lawyer as soon as possible to explore all of your legal options.