What can happen if the brain stem is damaged?

            The human nervous system including nerves in the body and the brain as the main computer or processor to control the body function, is surely a marvel. This complex system enables humans to function well, survive in many environments and to live as social beings. To help preserve the nervous system, some people opt to take medical supplements. In this article, we will know what happens if one of the brain structures called the brain stem is damaged.

            Brain stem, as the name suggests, is a stem coming from the brain that has a stalk-like shape and is located on the base of the human brain, slightly above the spinal cord. The brain is connected to the spinal cord through the brain stem. The brain stem consists of 3 parts: the first part is the midbrain which functions best at regulating eye movement and hearing process, the second part is the pons located at the middle part of the brain stem that is responsible for facial movements, hearing and balance, and the last part which is also the bottom part known as the medulla oblongata is responsible for vital signs such as respiratory system like breathing, cardiovascular system such as heartbeat and blood pressure. A number of reflex actions such as swallowing, sneezing, coughing and vomiting is also a role of the medulla.

            Without any doubt, the brain stem itself plays a lot of roles in the nervous system. Damages to any part of this structure could immediately give unwanted symptoms that causes a person to be disable either permanently or temporarily. Since the brain stem is a link or bridging between the spinal cord and the rest of the brain, damage to the brain stem may also affect other functions besides the one mentioned with the parts respectively. Thus, what is the effect of brain stem damage? Below are examples being common effects:

1)  Motor difficulties- A person’s balance can be disturbed when the pons sustain damages from the nearby brain that is affected by injury. Pons is directly connected to the cerebellum that plays a vital role in controlling balance and coordination either in movement or still.

2)  Respiratory issues- A damaged medulla oblongata will be unable to detect carbon dioxide in blood. The respiratory system is affected by the concentration of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood. This helps give information on how much air is needed by the body and affects breathing rate. Most common respiratory problems are lack of breathing (apnoea), rapid deep breathing (hyperventilation) and slow shallow breathing (hypoventilation).

3)  Swallowing difficulties- Swallowing problems such as dysphagia can be caused when the medulla part is damaged. Aside from dysphagia, automatic reflexes such as gag reflex may also be affected. This may lead to patients choked on their own saliva due to absence of such reflex to protect possible harmful contents from entering the throat.

4)  Locked-In Syndrome- A neurological disorder characterised by complete paralysis of all muscles in the body except the eyes. People with this condition are fully conscious and cognitive function is preserved but unable to do any movement beside the eye and unable to speak. It is common in brain stem damage caused by stroke.

5)  Coma- The main structure controlling states of consciousness called the reticular activating system is located in the brainstem. Damage to the brain stem may cause an effect to the patient’s consciousness, making a person in a deep state of eyes shut unconsciously and unable to respond towards the environment and people around them. Brain death is different to coma as brain death has no existing brain functions left as there is no brain activity and most likely needs medical support such as ventilated support that works as a temporary measure. Get Vaccinated.