Cerebral edema is a severe condition with a high chance of brain damage and death. This is because there is a more significant entry of fluids to said organ, and through an exchange process, the cells retain and absorb some components, causing them to swell. The biggest problem is that increasing the size of the brain increases the pressure in the skull, and with little space, the correct blood flow and cerebrospinal fluid are blocked and alter some functions of the nervous system.
Several conditions may involve the development of edema in the brain, as it tends to present as a complication, so anyone, regardless of age, can suffer from it. However, it is possible to combat it and avoid more significant consequences, especially if detected early. For this reason, in this FastlyHealarticle, we will inform you of cerebral edema: causes, symptoms, and treatment.
Table of Contents
Brain edema: causes
Various disorders can cause fluid to accumulate in the brain and become inflamed; some may be more serious than others. Still, it is essential in any case to combat it to avoid fatal consequences. You need to pay more attention if you suffer from any of the most common causes of brain edema, including:
- Hyponatremia: is an electrolyte disorder in which the amount of sodium in the blood is below average, breaking the balance of water and salts between cells and body fluid. As a compensation mechanism, cells absorb large amounts of fluid, and this causes them to swell.
- Stroke: it occurs due to insufficient cerebral blood flow and therefore of oxygen and essential minerals, preventing the proper functioning of the brain. This causes cells to break down and fluid to build up. The leading cause is hypertension, but there are many factors, including the formation of blood clots.
- Intense trauma to the head: the injury itself can cause inflammation in the brain, but edema is commonly caused by the rupture of a blood vessel and the resulting cerebral hemorrhage, which cells try to regulate by absorbing excess fluid, for which swell and increase the size of the brain. In the following article, we explain when to go to the doctor for a blow to the head.
- Infections: the cause could be a virus, a bacterium, a fungus, or a parasite, which attacks the brain directly, or the condition in another area affects it. When the pathogen reaches this organ, it infects brain cells, damaging them and finally destroying them, thus breaking the balance of fluids. In addition, the immune system’s attack favors the inflammation of the brain. Some diseases that could end in brain edema are rubella, fulminant hepatitis, toxoplasmosis, and meningitis, among others.
- Brain tumors: the growth of an abnormal mass in the brain can block blood and cerebrospinal fluid circulation, causing cells to break down and greater exchange and accumulation of brain fluids.
- Altitude hypoxia: it can appear above 2000 meters of altitude, especially if the ascent is rapid. The lack of oxygen causes the body to compensate by dilating the blood vessels in the brain and increasing flow, but as this condition continues, it causes the exchange of fluids and salts to increase. Fluids pass to the brain and produce their accumulation.
Primary symptoms of cerebral edema
It is essential to know how to distinguish the signs of cerebral edema and not to take lightly the discomfort that occurs. The number of symptoms, intensity, and constancy depends on the cause, the patient’s age, the general state of health, and the level of inflammation. Among the symptoms of edema in the brain, the following stand out:
- Constant, very severe, or prolonged headaches.
- Nausea or vomiting
- Vision disturbances, often partial loss of sight, double or blurred vision.
- Neck Pain.
- Trouble speaking normally
- Abnormal breathing mainly accelerated, and there are moments of apnea.
- Disorders in the states of the muscles, that is, they can be stiff or relaxed even if they are stimulated. It mainly occurs in the legs, affecting walking.
- Alterations in consciousness can be a simple state of confusion, fainting, and even falling into a coma, as in some more severe cases.
- Memory problems, there may be difficulty storing or remembering some things.
Diagnosis of edema in the brain
The symptoms of cerebral edema can be confused with other pathologies. Still, in the presence of any of them, it is essential to go immediately to the doctor, who must carry out the appropriate tests and give an accurate diagnosis. In principle, it is necessary to provide the medical history and determine when the discomfort is felt and the degree of intensity. Later, the specialist can test the ability of speech and vision, reflexes, muscle movements, and memory.
Likewise, a blood test may be required for a grander scheme of the disease. Still, a conclusive diagnosis of cranial edema is achieved by obtaining neuroimaging, the best studies are magnetic resonance imaging, which more clearly shows the edema and its degree of severity, and head computed tomography, which, in addition to reflecting the edema, also identifies the cause.
Treatment to combat brain edema
It is essential to treat edema in the brain as soon as possible to avoid irreparable damage and complications such as intracranial hypertension or brain herniation. It is first sought to eliminate accumulated fluid, restore adequate blood circulation and oxygen level, and reduce inflammation. It is also necessary to determine the factor that produced it to follow the corresponding treatment, whether pharmacological or surgical. Most of them are intense, prolonged, and under constant control.
To reduce excess fluids, the specialist may choose to practice osmotherapy; it is the most effective way to achieve this objective and consists of intravenously administering osmotic agents, that is, those that stimulate the exchange and balance of extracellular cellular fluid, like mannitol. It can also be accompanied by the consumption of diuretics because it increases the osmotic process, eliminating excess fluids and pressure in the area.
The use of corticosteroids is recommended to reduce the pressure in the skull, but only if the doctor has prescribed it since it is contraindicated in some cases. At the same time, the supply of oxygen is generally done through a respirator or following a controlled breathing technique.
On the other hand, in severe cases of cerebral edema, surgery may be considered, one of which is a ventriculostomy, whose objective is to drain the fluid accumulated in the brain through a small cut in one of its ventricles. When intracranial pressure does not decrease and is life-threatening, the specialist may suggest a decompressive craniectomy, in which a part of the skull is cut to make room for the inflamed organ and the pressure is reduced; however, it is not a very frequent option, as it is a very delicate procedure.
This article is merely informative, at FastlyHeal .com we do not have the power to prescribe medical treatments or make any diagnosis. We invite you to see a doctor in the case of presenting any condition or discomfort.
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I am a Surgeon with a diploma in comprehensive ultrasound and surgical care residency, an area I am specializing in. During the exercise of my profession, I have realized the need for patients to know the diseases they suffer, and I can tell you that a large part of their complications is due to a lack of information. Being a health web writer allows me to transmit my experience, without borders, to all those readers eager for knowledge, educate them in the prevention of diseases and promote a healthy lifestyle.