All About Edema Or Brain Swelling

All About Edema Or Brain Swelling

Brain swelling, or edema, is a very serious condition.  This is when the pressure inside your skull increases. Brain swelling can be caused by lots of different things.  There are five main types of different brain swelling that can occur. Brain swelling can prevent blood flow, block fluids from leaving the brain causing more pressure to build up, damage or death of the brain cells and can even cause death.  There are lots of things that can lead to brain swelling and you will need to be treated almost immediately for there to be no lasting effect. 

Brain swelling can be caused by lots of different things from infections to even the altitude.  The main cause of brain swelling is head trauma. This can include a traumatic brain injury as well.  Examples of this would be a concussion from a car crash, or fall. Infections in the brain can also lead to brain swelling, such as meningitis, or encephalitis. Other causes of brain swelling can be stroke, toxoplasmosis, subdural empyema, or tumors.  Mountain sickness can cause brain edema as well from the high altitude. There are many causes of brain swelling and some can be more dangerous than others.  

There are five main types of brain swelling:

Cytotoxic is one of the most common brain swellings.  This is when your brain holds onto sodium and water. This type is usually caused by traumatic brain injuries, infection, or ingestion of methanol or ecstasy. 

The second most common type is vasogenic. Vasogenic brain swelling is when the blood barrier of the brain doesn’t work properly. This type is caused by tumors or brain abscesses. 

The third type is interstitial which is caused by obstructive hydrocephalus.

The fourth type is hydrostatic which can be brought on by heart failure or chronic venous destruction.

Osmotic is the last type of brain swelling and it is when there is extra water that builds up in your brain cells that won’t drain.  Knowing which type you have will help your doctor prescribe the right treatment. 


There is a long list of symptoms of brain swelling. If you have any of these you will want to be seen by a doctor immediately.  The first 24-48 hours are crucial in the treatment process. Some symptoms include headache, neck pain, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, or irregular breathing.  Other symptoms are vision loss, memory loss, inability to walk, difficulty speaking, stupor, seizures, or loss of consciousness. Depending on what type of brain swelling you have will determine what symptoms you may show.  You could have some of these symptoms or a lot of them it is all dependent on how severe your brain injury is.  

If you present with any of these symptoms and your doctor believes you could have brain swelling there are a number of tests your doctor may do to diagnose you.  They will first start with a head and neck exam. After that your doctor will order a CT scan or an MRI or both to get pictures of your brain