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What Is a Brain Stem Injury?

A brain stem injury is when trauma, disease, or other factors impact the function of the region of the brain known as the brain stem. Since the brain stem is essential to life, these sorts of injuries often prove very serious, if not deadly. For more brain injury legal information find an experienced California brain injury attorney at Gomez Trial Attorneys near you.


How the Brain Works

The brain is part of a complex system of specialized cells in the body known as the nervous system. The nervous system consists of cells that transfer information through the body rapidly via electrochemical reactions. The delay is almost non-existent, as the nervous system is depended upon in very simple lifeforms to determine fight-or-flight reactions in response to painful stimuli or perceived threats, all the way up to more complex organisms, such as human beings, who rely upon the nervous system for complex thought and information storage in both short- and long-term memory. The nervous system also controls all other functions of the body, such as respiration, digestion, and even your heartbeat.

The brain is a highly complex organ, in that it contains vast amounts of information in the form of memory, cognition, and other conscious thought. The brain essentially runs on two parallel pathways: voluntary and involuntary brain function. The cerebrum controls thought processes, learning, emotions, sensory interpretation and basically what makes up our personalities. The brainstem, however, is one of the oldest parts of the brain, serving as a connection to the rest of the body via the spinal cord. It is responsible for involuntary processes, such as breathing, swallowing, heartbeat, and other basic life processes.

What Types of Traumatic Events Cause Brain Stem Injuries?

  • Car accidents: Our bodies are fairly weak in comparison to the metal and glass of a vehicle moving at speed. As a result, our bodies often succumb to incredible amounts of force when involved in a vehicle impact. This trauma can cause an individual’s head to whiplash suddenly, which may cause injury to the spinal column or brain stem.
  • Sports injuries: Bodies in motion remain in motion until an unbalanced force acts upon them. This is as true in physics as it is in sports, and impacts with the ground, other players, or even equipment can cause damage to the brain stem. The sports world is just recently giving traumatic brain injuries the attention that they deserve, as they are one of the most common sports injuries.
  • Falls: What may seem like a simple fall can directly affect your brain stem, depending on the position of the neck at impact or a sudden force that affects the brain stem.
  • Violence: Violent trauma, either from a physical attack to something like blunt force trauma, or even a gunshot, can create brain damage, especially in the brain stem.
  • Shaken baby syndrome: Determined to be the cause of death, disability, and other traumatic brain injuries in many babies, the force that acts upon a baby’s brain stem when shaken is well documented.
  • Drowning: Oxygen deprivation may impact a brain stem in negative ways, creating long-term damage.
  • Impacts: Objects falling from heights or launched at force, like those that you may encounter in the workplace or at home, have the potential to cause damage to your brain stem.
  • Swelling: Damage to the neck, skull, or other parts of the body that results in edema or swelling that is beyond a body’s ability to compensate. The resulting increase in pressure can have lasting impacts on the brain.

What Are Some Effects of a Brain Stem Injury?

Since the brain stem is not only a conduit to the nervous system, which threads through the body and connects to every other system, the brain stem is a critical link in the chain from our conscious, thinking minds to our unconscious and involuntary mechanisms.

An injury can reveal itself in many ways:

  • Paralysis: Trauma to the nervous system is very dangerous, especially in regards to brain and spinal damage. These cells do not heal the same way that other parts of the body are repaired. Oftentimes, damage to the central nervous system results in paralysis.
  • Death: Trauma to the brain stem is often fatal.
  • Memory loss: The brain is an organ that is wired for interconnectivity, much like the systems on your home computer. Disruption of the function in one area, such as the brain stem, might result in damage to other areas of the brain, typically considered to be the origin of higher thought.
  • Motor function loss: Damage to the brain stem can result in a loss of motor function, since the brain stem is vital in controlling these functions of the body.
  • Problems breathing: Again, the brain stem controls involuntary body processes, including breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure. Damage can result in breathing problems.
  • Disruption of involuntary bodily functions: Everything from your heartbeat to your ability to swallow food is controlled by the brain stem. Damage to the brain stem may require medical intervention, either for the short-term or life-long use.
  • Problems with speech: As one area of the brain is affected by damage in another, a traumatic brain injury in the brain stem will often present itself in slurred speech or difficulty in communication.
  • Coma: A response to brain trauma, such as coma, often results in a shutdown of the brain’s higher thought and cognition. Sometimes, this condition can be repaired, but other times, it may degrade into brain death.
  • Brain death: Unfortunately, in severe cases of brain stem injury, the link between the brain stem and the cognitive part of the brain is often severed. Whereas the body might retain its ability to sustain involuntary function to some degree, the part of the mind that relates to thinking, consciousness, and higher thought is lost. In this case, the body is sometimes kept functional by the aid of medical equipment, such as ventilators. When brain death occurs, the body inevitably follows.

What Are Some Indications of a Brain Stem Injury?

This list is meant to be used as a reference and not a means of diagnosis. If you are experiencing any brain injury symptoms after a head or neck injury, consult a doctor immediately.

  • Persistent headache: After trauma to the brain, it isn’t uncommon to have a headache. One that persists, and that is accompanied by other symptoms, might be an indication of something much more serious.
  • Loss of consciousness: Impacts that cause a loss of consciousness may also indicate possible brain stem damage. Common examples are head trauma from diving into shallow swimming pools, blunt force trauma, or falling from heights.
  • Blood in ears: When a trauma is bad enough to cause bleeding from the ears, this is a good indication that the brain stem may have been affected. This might occur because of a sudden increase in swelling and pressure that is being released by pushing blood out into other areas of the body.
  • Spinal fluid: Not only can blood come from the ears, but spinal fluid can leak out as well. This substance is what helps protect the brain and spinal cord from injury, infection, and disease. The presence of spinal fluid indicates that some severe trauma has happened and immediate measures must be taken.
  • Seizure: If a brain stem injury occurs from an impact, the body may react by having a seizure. Seizures are common when the brain is attempting to make sense of biochemical signals or when those signals are interrupted. A seizure after a fall might be an indication of something much worse than a concussion.
  • Concussion: This is a fairly general term when it comes to traumatic brain injuries. A concussion is when the brain shifts inside the skull, usually because of some sort of force, and becomes bruised. Brain stem injuries are often mistaken for concussions.
  • Uneven dilation of the pupils: Since the brain stem controls involuntary reflexes, such as pupil dilation, this is often an indicator that something is wrong.
  • Confusion and cognition problems: As the functions of the brain are interconnected, this is often a symptom of a brain injury and one metric that might lead to a diagnosis of a brain stem injury.
  • Personality changes: A person’s personality is determined by his or her brain chemistry. Damage to one part may impact the rest in surprising ways.
  • Facial paralysis: This is often an indicator of stroke as well as brain stem injury. The brain stem controls the muscles and nerves that control how the face rests or responds to stimuli.
  • Loss of senses: The brain stem is important in the brain’s function of deciphering external information. One of the ways this is done is through our senses. Changes in how we smell, taste, touch, or see (such as double vision or blindness) may indicate something very serious.

What All of This Means

Looking at the causes and symptoms of a possible brain stem injury is one thing, but combining all of those factors is another thing entirely. From the individual effects of an injury of this type which may alter the way a person functions on a daily basis, all the way up to the possibility of death, a brain stem injury is very serious. The effects might be temporary or life-threatening. In many cases, such as brain injury resulting from workplace accidents, or athletics, they may have been lessened, if not prevented entirely with adequate safety equipment.

Following proper safety guidelines and practices might have been all you could do to avoid serious injury, in which case, you should seek compensation for your losses and damages. In the case of physical violence, car accidents, or other trauma that was not within your power to avoid, you should definitely seek compensation. Someone else is liable for these damages, as these injuries are something that you, a loved one, or both will have to live with forever.

You Should Retain an Attorney

Max Halpern
As researchers continue to study injuries pertaining to the brain, from the field of sports medicine to the effects of concussive impacts from working in a hostile environment—such as being a soldier or first responder—we are learning how to recognize and treat traumatic brain injuries better every day. These treatments are often cost-prohibitive, and the long-term effects of a brain stem injury often impact a person’s ability to enjoy a happy, productive life. If you or someone you know has been the victim of an accident, trauma, or condition that has resulted in brain stem injury, you need an attorney.

You might not be enjoying the same quality of life, but you have rights that you should protect. You deserve compensation for the full cost of your injuries. This is not a battle you should ever fight by yourself. As it is, dealing with a brain stem injury is enough to contend with. You or your loved ones have already been fighting the battle of their lives. This is why it is time to hire a professional who will fight zealously to help you seek justice.

Without an experienced brain injury lawyer, insurance companies and liable parties may try to take advantage of you. Moreover, whatever the cause of your traumatic brain injury, a brain injury attorney can answer your questions, evaluate your case, and help you determine how to navigate the court system and seek compensation.

Contact a Brain Injury Lawyer for More Information

If you or someone you know is the victim of an accident or injury resulting in brain stem or other trauma, you need a lawyer who will fight for you. A brain injury lawyer can help you to learn more about what steps you should take to seek compensation as well as justice for this life-changing event.

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  • “During the time I was working with Gomez Trial Attorneys, they treated me very, very well. 100% of the time, they believed me, and they were very compassionate. They felt sorry for what happened and they understood the therapy process.”

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