Cerebral Edema: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment


Cerebral edema, also called brain edema or brain swelling, refers to a life-threatening condition with fluid developing in the brain.

Cerebral edema increases pressure inside the skull. That’s known as intracranial pressure, or ICP. Increased ICP can reduce brain blood flow and decrease the oxygen that makes the brain to function properly. Swelling can also block other fluids from leaving the brain, resulting in severe damage or death of brain cells. If left untreated, cerebral edema can be extremely fatal.


There are several factors that can cause brain swelling. They include:

  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI).

A TBI causes damage to the brain. Physical contact and falls can cause the brain to swell.

  • Stroke.

Some cases of stroke can cause brain swelling, specifically an ischemic stroke.

  • Infection diseases

Some diseases like mumps, malaria, Reyes syndrome, typhus and Kawasaki disease. can cause brain inflammation and swelling, especially if left untreated.

  • Tumors

Brain tumors can add pressure to areas of the brain, causing the surrounding brain to swell.

Other causes of brain swelling include:

  • high altitude
  • unhealthy use of drugs
  • viral infections
  • carbon monoxide poisoning
  • bites from poisonous animals, reptiles, and some marine animals
  • an impact to the brain, such as through a traumatic brain injury, hypertension, and eclampsia.
  • excessive pressure around the brain, which is from an impaired blood flow.


The earliest indication of cerebral edema is a change in the patient’s consciousness. Its level may differ at any given time that the disease sets in.
Other signs of Cerebral Edema may include:

  • confusion
  • nausea
  • lack of coordination
  • numbness
  • dizziness

Some indications of cerebral edema after an injury or infection include:

  • headache
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • lack of coordination
  • numbness

In more severe cases of cerebral edema, you may experience symptoms including:

  • mood changes
  • memory loss
  • difficulty speaking
  • incontinence
  • change in behavior or personality
  • seizures
  • weakness

The symptoms mentioned above may progress rapidly, so immediate diagnosis and effective treatment are necessary.


The diagnosis for cerebral edema depends on the specific symptoms, the underlying cause, as well as the severity and location of the swelling.

Common exams and tests used in the diagnosis include:

  • physical exam, including head and neck exam, and neurologic exam, to detect pain, discomfort, or abnormalities
  • CT scan of the head to identify the extent and location of the swelling
  • head MRI to identify the location of the swelling
  • blood tests to determine the cause of swelling


Minor cases of brain swelling often resolve within a few days. In most cases, however, more treatment is needed quickly.

Common treatment options for cerebral edema may include:

  • Medications

Depending on the severity of your condition and the underlying cause, different medications are prescribed to relieve the swelling and to express the excess amount of fluid.

  • Osmotherapy

Osmotherapy is a technique meant to draw water out of the brain.

  • Hyperventilation

Some doctors may perform a controlled hyperventilation to help lower the patient’s ICP.

  • Hypothermia

Hypothermia means lowering the body temperature to decrease

metabolism in the brain and reduce swelling.

  • Ventriculostomy

This involves draining fluid from the brain to relieve ICP pressure.

  • Surgery

This surgery could mean removing part of the skull or removing the source of the swelling, such as in the case of a tumor. This is usually the last resort in more severe cases.

Keywords: cerebral edema.

* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.