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Brain swelling, also known as cerebral edema, typically occurs when there is some type of injury to the brain, or when an illness afflicts the brain. There are numerous causes of swelling in the brain, including brain injury, stroke, infections, tumors, and altitude sickness. The swelling can occur in just one part of the brain, or throughout the brain. Short-term effects of swelling in the brain can include confusion, disorientation, vertigo, nausea, and agitation. Long-term effects of cerebral edema can include cognitive and language impairments, problems with memory, dizziness, headache, fatigue, insomnia, anxiety, and depression.
The human brain, like most other tissues of the human body, can swell in response to infection, injury, or disease. Swelling of the brain can be dangerous, however, because the bones of the skull often don't allow much room for brain swelling. Pressure can build up inside the skull, increasing the risk of brain damage with cerebral edema. When intracranial pressure occurs with cerebral swelling, the brain often doesn't receive the oxygen it needs to heal and function.
Causes of brain swelling can include infectious diseases like meningitis. Head injuries, brain tumors, strokes, and hemorrhages can also lead to swelling of parts of the brain, or of the whole brain. Altitude sickness can also lead to cerebral edema, especially when severe.
In the short term, brain swelling can have a number of physical and cognitive effects. Symptoms of brain swelling may be more or less severe depending on the severity of the swelling. Mild to moderate cerebral edema typically causes short-term symptoms nausea, light-headedness, vertigo, and confusion. More severe swelling may cause restlessness, agitation, vomiting, and drowsiness. Coordination and balance can be influenced, and the pupils of the eyes may fail to react properly to light stimulus.
In the long term, cerebral edema can have severe effects on cognitive functioning. Symptoms of dizziness, fatigue, and headache can continue. Insomnia, irritability, anxiety, and depression can occur. Cognitive difficulties, such decreased memory, inability to think clearly, and trouble paying attention or concentrating can all be among the long-term effects of cerebral edema. Language, reasoning, emotionality, and initiative can suffer in the long term due to brain swelling. The long-term effects of cerebral edema may endure for quite some time after the swelling has healed, even lasting for years.