What Are the Effects of Brain Swelling?

An MRI can often detect brain abnormalities.
Insomnia is a long-term effect of brain swelling.
Confusion can be one effect of brain swelling.
An MRI scan of the head may be used to help determine the causes of brain swelling.
Traumatic head injury is a common cause of brain swelling.
Brain tumors may cause swelling in the brain.
The human brain may to swell in response to infection, injury, or disease, which can be dangerous.
Article Details
  • Written By: Marjorie McAtee
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 01 September 2014
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Brain swelling, also known as cerebral edema, typically occurs when there is some type of injury to the brain, or when an illness afflicts the brain. There are numerous causes of swelling in the brain, including brain injury, stroke, infections, tumors, and altitude sickness. The swelling can occur in just one part of the brain, or throughout the brain. Short-term effects of swelling in the brain can include confusion, disorientation, vertigo, nausea, and agitation. Long-term effects of cerebral edema can include cognitive and language impairments, problems with memory, dizziness, headache, fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, and depression.

The human brain, like most other tissues of the human body, can swell in response to infection, injury, or disease. Swelling of the brain can be dangerous, however, because the bones of the skull often don't allow much room for brain swelling. Pressure can build up inside the skull, increasing the risk of brain damage with cerebral edema. When intracranial pressure occurs with cerebral swelling, the brain often doesn't receive the oxygen it needs to heal and function.

Causes of brain swelling can include infectious diseases like meningitis. Head injuries, brain tumors, strokes, and hemorrhages can also lead to swelling of parts of the brain, or of the whole brain. Altitude sickness can also lead to cerebral edema, especially when severe.

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In the short term, brain swelling can have a number of physical and cognitive effects. Symptoms of brain swelling may be more or less severe depending on the severity of the swelling. Mild to moderate cerebral edema typically causes short-term symptoms nausea, light-headedness, vertigo, and confusion. More severe swelling may cause restlessness, agitation, vomiting, and drowsiness. Coordination and balance can be influenced, and the pupils of the eyes may fail to react properly to light stimulus.

In the long term, cerebral edema can have severe effects on cognitive functioning. Symptoms of dizziness, fatigue, and headache can continue. Insomnia, irritability, anxiety, and depression can occur. Cognitive difficulties, such decreased memory, inability to think clearly, and trouble paying attention or concentrating can all be among the long-term effects of cerebral edema. Language, reasoning, emotionality, and initiative can suffer in the long term due to brain swelling. The long-term effects of cerebral edema may endure for quite some time after the swelling has healed, even lasting for years.

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croydon
Post 4

This makes me think of trepanning, which is a type of surgery that they were performing even thousands of years ago. At first anthropologists thought they were doing this, cutting holes in peoples' skulls, just because of some ancient ritual or maybe to hurt people.

Then they realized that in fact it was a surgical procedure and that it's likely they somehow realized that brain swelling after a head injury can be fatal if the pressure isn't relieved. Sometimes it's not just the brain itself, but also clots of blood causing pressure and cutting a hole in the skull is the only way to save the person.

It's pretty amazing that they were doing this so long ago when you think about how terrifying it can be to have brain surgery these days.

clintflint
Post 3

@umbra21 - The point is that even if the swelling itself goes down, unfortunately there can be effects from it that last permanently. Sometimes you've just got to live with them.

My grandfather had a stroke many years ago and even though he had brain swelling after the stroke, it went away fairly quickly and we were quite optimistic.

And he didn't do badly considering how bad the stroke was, but he never really went back completely to being his old self again either and the doctor said it was impossible to know if it was the swelling or not.

With the brain, you've just got to do as much as you can and then hope for the best after that.

umbra21
Post 2

@anon329990 - That's something you really need to talk to a doctor about, but unfortunately I don't think he or she will really be able to give you an exact figure. As it says in the article, it can be days or weeks or months before brain swelling goes down and I don't think there's a really good way of predicting it.

If you are still experiencing brain swelling symptoms though, past when your doctor said you should be having them, definitely go and ask about it, because if you've had brain surgery it might not just be swelling. There could be other complications. I hope everything goes well for you.

anon329990
Post 1

I had my second surgery on my left side of my head (due to having brain cancer) and that was two months ago. I seem to still be having some swelling. Do you know how long this takes to clear itself up?

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