The brainstem is an integral part of life. It controls a wide range of bodily functions including breathing, digestion, and motor function. Because of the vital role it plays in many autonomic functions, injuries to the brainstem are often fatal. When a victim survives a brainstem injury, they often have serious impairments or even develop locked in syndrome.
Understanding the Brainstem and Its Functions
The brainstem serves as the link between the brain and the spinal cord. It plays a key role in many involuntary and voluntary bodily functions, including:
- Heart rate
- Motor functions
When there is an issue with the brainstem, transmission of signals from the brain to the spinal cord may get interrupted or cease. Sensory information may not make it from the extremities to the brain, and information about movement or autonomic functions may never make it beyond the brainstem. This can cause significant impairment and even death.
Causes and Effects of Brainstem Injuries
All too often, brainstem injuries cause death almost instantly as the heart stops beating and breathing stops. In those that survive, injuries, strokes, or hemorrhages may cause compression in the brainstem and a wide range of effects. Brainstem injuries may lead to:
- Inability to regulate breathing
- Sleep apnea
- Swallowing difficulties
- Problems with speech
- Personality changes
- Memory loss
- Loss of consciousness and coma
- Consistent vegetative state
- Locked in syndrome, where cognitive functioning remains intact but motor functioning is extremely limited
Any injury to the neck or head, or a whipping or twisting injury involving significant forces to the head and neck, can cause a brainstem injury. The most common ways the injuries occur include:
- Auto accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Falls from a height, such as a window, roof, or ladder
- Sports and recreation injuries
- Stroke affecting the brainstem
- Hemorrhage in the artery supplying blood to the brainstem
Diagnosis and Treatment of Brainstem Injuries
To diagnose a brain stem injury, doctors will conduct a number of neurological tests as well as use medical imaging such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to determine the location and severity of the injuries and the areas of the body they affect. They may also use electroencephalography (EEG) to record and analyze electrical activity in the brain. Most of this testing is noninvasive and can help the doctors develop a treatment plan.
If the brainstem injury limits motor functioning, the injured person may require intensive therapy and rehabilitation. Regaining strength and relearning skills may be possible with rehabilitation. Those with the most serious brainstem injuries may not need rehabilitation but will require other medical care and support. This may include assistance with nourishment and breathing.
Prognosis After a Brainstem Injury
Many people with even significant brainstem injuries can maintain a good quality of life thanks to advancements in medical care and technology. With the right care and tools, brainstem injury victims and their families can learn to live with the mental, physical, and emotional challenges that come along with this type of injury.
While many people cannot return to work after suffering this type of injury or an illness that causes a brainstem disorder, this does not mean they cannot learn to adapt to their impairments. Even those with locked in syndrome may learn to communicate using an eye gaze or brain-computer interface and get around thanks to a customized powered wheelchair.
You May Be Able to Pursue Compensation After a Brainstem Injury
If you or a loved one suffered a brainstem injury, you might be eligible to pursue compensation to cover your expenses, losses, and ongoing care costs. This may be possible if you:
- You suffered brainstem injuries in a negligence accident; or
- Your brainstem injuries occurred because of a missed or delayed diagnosis; or
- You suffered brainstem injuries as a result of a medical or surgical mistake
Let the team from Newsome | Melton review your case today to learn if you may be eligible to take legal action and pursue compensation to help you pay for treatment and ongoing care following a brainstem injury. Recoverable damages could include:
- Medical care costs
- Lost wages and benefits
- Diminished earning capacity
- Out-of-pocket costs
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
Brainstem injuries have incredibly high lifetime costs associated with rehabilitation or ongoing care. You may be able to recover compensation to cover these costs, lessening the financial burden of this type of injury and gaining access to assistive devices and technology that improves quality of life for those with severe impairments.
Call us today at (800) 917-5888 to learn more. We offer free case reviews and initial consultations.