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Brain Injury

Brain Edema

1. What is brain edema?

Brain edema is a condition that has the potential of threatening the characterized life through fluid accumulation in the brain. Because the brain is in a confined place within the skull, edema build-up increases intracranial pressure. And intracranial pressure reduces the blood flow to the brain. Eventually, the brain may not be able to take enough oxygen, and brain damage can develop. Brain damage by causing cell death increases edema even more. In a severe edema case, fluid discharge from the brain gets even harder, and clinical conditions may deteriorate swiftly.

2. Why brain edema happens?

  1. Traumatic Brain Damage: Direct impacts to the head due to reasons like a traffic accident, fall, sports injury, violent events may cause edema build-up in the brain. In severe head injury, crack in the skull, direct injury due to acceleration in the brain tissue, dilation in the vessels in the brain, and cerebral hemorrhage.
  2. Brain Vessel Occlusion: In case of occlusion in brain blood vessels, the nerve cells cannot obtain their needed oxygen. Nerve cell death can develop edema in the brain.
  3. Infection: Infections that affect the brain tissue and the cerebral cortex like encephalitis and meningitis can cause edema through immune system activation. Sinus infection and meningitis can cause abscess build-up in the brain. Brain abscess can develop edema both through inflammatory reaction and mass effect.
  4. Brain Tumors: Brain tumors pressure the tissue around them. Cell death and edema form in the bad blood circulated tissue because of pressure increase. The tumor can obstruct the fluid discharge; it can also increase the edema through the creation of new veins.


Other Causes: Going up to a high altitude all of a sudden (generally higher than 4000 meters) (acute mountain sickness), Drug abuse, carbon monoxide poisoning, and other poisonings can also cause brain edema.

3. How brain edema diagnosis is made?

Symptoms of brain edema change according to severity and cause. Firstly:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Lack of coordination
  • Numbness in the body

If the brain edema gets more severe symptoms like, consciousness shift, change in the emotional states, paraphrasia, urinary incontinence, seizure, and muscle weakness can be added.

4. What are the symptoms of brain edema?

It is not always easy to diagnose brain edema. Firstly it is started off with the complaints and an extensive neurologic examination is made. Head nerve examination, eye ground examination, sensation in the arms and legs, strength and reflex examination, evaluation of the consciousness are the most basic steps of the examination.


Brain edema is not a sole disorder but a result of another problem. To diagnose the main disorder brain tomography and magnetic resonance screening may be needed to be done. Blood examinations are important to evaluate the infection parameters.

5. How brain edema is treated?

The brain edema resulting from mild head trauma (concussion) can disappear itself with rest. But in most cases, because brain edema is a life-threatening condition its treatment is urgent. Treatments that will decrease the edema and ensure enough blood circulation are practiced. For decisive treatment, underlying reasons like infections and tumors must be eliminated.

  • Medication
  • Osmotic Treatment
  • Oxygen Treatment(Hyperventilation)
  • Hypothermia
  • Ventriculostomy
  • Surgery

Prof. Dr. Engin Çakar

Prof. Dr. Engin Çakar has more than 15 years of experience in the areas of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation, Algology and Electrodiagnostic Neurology.

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