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Brain Swelling

What Are the Symptoms of Brain Swelling?

Symptoms of brain swelling vary, depending on the severity and the cause. Usually they begin suddenly. You may notice any of these symptoms:

  • Headache
  • Neck pain or stiffness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Irregular breathing
  • Vision loss or changes
  • Memory loss
  • Inability to walk
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Stupor
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness

How Is Brain Swelling Diagnosed?

The steps used by your doctor to diagnose brain swelling depend on the symptoms and the suspected cause. Common exams and tests used in the diagnosis include:

  • Head and neck exam
  • Neurologic exam
  • CT scan of the head to identify the extent and location of the swelling
  • MRI of the head to identify the extent and location of the swelling
  • Blood tests to check for causes of the swelling

What Is the Treatment for Brain Swelling?

Minor cases of brain swelling due to causes such as moderate altitude sickness or a slight concussion often resolve within a few days. In most cases, however, more treatment is needed quickly.

The goal is to assure that the brain receives enough blood and oxygen to remain healthy while the swelling is relieved and any underlying causes are treated. This may require a combination of medical and surgical treatments. Prompt treatment usually results in quicker and more complete recovery. Without it, some damage may remain.

Treatment for brain edema may include any combination of the following:

  • Oxygen therapy: Providing oxygen through a respirator or other means helps make sure that the blood has enough oxygen in it. The doctor can adjust the respirator to help reduce the amount of swelling.
  • IV fluids: Giving fluids and medicine through an IV can keep blood pressure from dropping too low. This helps to make sure that the body -- including the brain -- is receiving enough blood. However, some fluids can make swelling worse. Doctors attempt to use the right amounts of the right fluids in someone with brain swelling.
  • Lowering body temperature (hypothermia): Lowering the temperature of the body and brain helps relieve swelling and allows the brain to heal. Hypothermia as a treatment for brain swelling is not widely used because it is difficult to perform correctly.
  • Medication: In some cases of brain edema, your doctor may start a drug to help relieve the swelling. Medication may also be given for other reasons, such as to slow your body's response to the swelling or to dissolve any clots. The drugs your doctor gives you depend on the cause and symptoms of brain swelling.
  • Ventriculostomy: In this procedure, a surgeon cuts a small hole in the skull and inserts a plastic drain tube. Cerebrospinal fluid is drained from inside the brain, helping to relieve the pressure.
  • Surgery: Surgery may have one or more of these goals:
    • Removing part of the skull to relieve intracranial pressure. This procedure is called decompressive craniectomy.
    • Removing or repairing the source of the swelling, such as repairing a damaged artery or vein or removing a growth.

WebMD Medical Reference

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