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What Are Brain Stem Lesions?

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  • Written By: C.B. Fox
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 25 September 2016
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Brain stem lesions are sections of tissue located on the brain stem that have sustained damage. This is not a specific disorder and may refer to any type of damage, including dead and abnormal cells. A lesion on the brain stem can be extremely serious because this part of the brain is responsible for functions that keep a person alive, such as respiration, heartbeat, and consciousness. Significant damage to the brain stem can lead to death or severe disability.

There are a variety of different conditions that can cause lesions. In some cases, a group of cells on the brain stem can die as a result of loss of blood flow to that area. Strokes commonly cause sections of the brain to die off. A stroke that affects the brain stem can easily kill a person, though it is possible for a very small area of the brain stem to be affected and for the person to survive.

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Tumors can also be responsible for the formation of brain stem lesions. These growths may be cancerous or benign and may or may not affect the ability of the brain stem to function normally. An infection can also form in the brain stem, forming a lesion and creating a potentially life threatening situation. Brain stem lesions can also form as a result of an external injury. As the brain stem is buried so far underneath the rest of the brain, however, such an injury would likely result in severe brain damage or death.

There are a number of symptoms that can indicate lesions on the brain stem. Pain at the back of the skull or neck may be an indicator there is a problem with the brain stem. Loss of brain stem function can also point to the possibility of a lesion. This may include nausea, loss of consciousness or inability to regain consciousness or difficulty breathing. More severe symptoms of loss of brain stem function are heart failure and sudden death.

If a lesion is not severe and is promptly treated, it is possible to recover from certain brain stem lesions. Depending on the type of lesion, a doctor will determine a treatment plan that will correct the problem while causing the least risk of injury to the patient. Some types of lesions, such as tumors, may be removed surgically, while others, such as abscesses, may be treated with antibiotics. Dead brain cells cannot be revived, however, so any area of the brain stem that has died as a result of a brain stem lesion is irrecoverable.

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