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Brain & Nervous System Health Center

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Brain Swelling

If you bump your knee, it's likely to swell. But what if you injure your brain?

Swelling -- also called edema -- is the body's response to many types of injury. It can result from overuse or infection. Usually, swelling happens quickly and is simple to treat with some combination of rest, ice, elevation, medication, or removal of excess fluid.

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Your brain can also swell as a result of injury, illness, or other reasons. Brain swelling, though, can quickly cause serious problems -- including death. It's also usually more difficult to treat. As your body's master control system, the brain is critical to overall function. Yet, the thick, bony skull that snugly protects this vital organ provides little room for the brain to swell.

What Is Brain Swelling?

Brain swelling goes by many names:

  • Brain edema
  • Elevated intracranial pressure
  • Cerebral edema

Swelling can occur in specific locations or throughout the brain. It depends on the cause. Wherever it occurs, brain swelling increases pressure inside the skull. That's known as intracranial pressure, or ICP. This pressure can prevent blood from flowing to your brain, which deprives it of the oxygen it needs to function. Swelling can also block other fluids from leaving your brain, making the swelling even worse. Damage or death of brain cells may result.

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