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Brain Stem Injuries From Crashes and Why They Are Serious

stock image of doctor examining brain mriBrain stem injuries from motor vehicle crashes, while rarer than other types of head injuries, are extremely severe. Since the brain stem controls critical body functions, this injury often leaves victims with devastating and permanent physical consequences.

Schmidt Kramer discusses brain stem injuries from crashes below, including typical symptoms and types of treatment. We also explain why it is vital to seek legal help in Pennsylvania for an injury case this complex. Our Harrisburg auto accident lawyers have extensive experience and a history of proven results.

Contact our law offices to request a FREE case review today. (717) 727-1403

What Body Functions Does the Brain Stem Control?

Your brain stem, which looks like a stalk, is located at the bottom of your brain. It connects your brain to your spinal cord and acts as the communicator between your brain and the rest of your body.

There are three sections to the brain stem (midbrain, pons and medulla oblongata), and each section controls different parts of your body’s functionality, including:

  • Breathing
  • Regulating your heart rate and body temperature
  • Consciousness
  • Sleep
  • Digestion
  • Eye movement
  • Swallowing
  • Balance

When someone is declared brain dead, it is this part of the brain doctors are referring to.

What Symptoms May Indicate a Brain Stem Injury?

Brain stem injuries may manifest with a wide range of symptoms. This is due to the severity of the injury, as well as which section of the brain stem was damaged.  Common signs of a brain stem injury may include:

  • Difficulty breathing: Victims may have impaired respiratory function depending on what part of the brain stem was injured.
  • Altered heart rate and blood pressure: Instability in the victim’s heart rate and blood pressure regulation could quickly become a life-threatening situation.
  • Loss of consciousness: In severe cases, a brain stem injury could cause the victim to go into a coma or persistent vegetative state.
  • Impaired eye movements and vision problems: Victims may have problems with eye movement or experience blurred vision due to damage to the cranial nerves in the brain stem.
  • Problems with swallowing and speaking: If the cranial nerves are damaged, it can also affect a victim’s ability to speak and swallow.
  • Weakness and/or paralysis: Depending on the location of the injury, the crash victim may have either partial or full paralysis in his or her limbs.
  • Impaired balance and coordination: Victims with an injured brain stem may experience coordination problems, such as walking or maintaining balance. These symptoms may be the result of a cerebellum injury, which is connected to the brain stem.

How Are Brain Stem Injuries Diagnosed and Treated?

Time is critical when dealing with a brain stem injury or any type of traumatic brain injury (TBI). Victims need to get a prompt diagnosis and begin treatment as soon after the injury as possible. Victims will need an immediate and thorough medical evaluation. Diagnostic testing will likely include neurological exams, as well as imaging tests, such as CT scans and MRIs. Medical professionals will also need to closely monitor vital signs.

Unfortunately, treatment options for brain stem injuries are limited due to the complexity of the brain stem and the potential risks involved. Sometimes crash victims with a brain stem injury may need to have surgery. This step can help to relieve pressure on the brain, repair damaged blood vessels or remove any blood clots.

For most patients, however, the main focus of treatment is supportive care. This treatment typically includes monitoring and maintaining stable vital signs, pain management and preventing infections and other secondary complications.

What is the Long-Term Outlook for Crash Victims With a Brain Stem Injury?

The long-term outlook for someone with a brain stem injury depends on the location and severity of the damage. When the damages are severe, victims may have traumatic, life-altering outcomes, including:


This could be temporary or permanent. Often, victims may wake up from a coma once the brain swelling goes down. After that the victim generally progresses through three additional stages of consciousness:

  • Vegetative state: In this stage, victims may open and shut their eyes, but still be unable to respond.
  • Minimally conscious state: Victims who are minimally conscious may respond by blinking or smiling, but continue to fall in and out of consciousness.
  • Confusional state: The victim may be fully awake and able to follow what is going on but still not have total control over his or her behavior.

The quicker a victim passes through these three stages, the greater their chances are of making a full recovery.

Difficulties Swallowing

Some brain stem injury victims may have problems swallowing. Within physical therapy, such as from a speech therapist, victims may be at risk of choking on their saliva.

Respiratory Issues

Some victims may experience difficulties with breathing normally after suffering a brain stem injury. For instance, they may breathe in air too fast or too slow. They may also have difficulties exhaling air or be unable to breathe independently at all.

Impaired Motor Functionality

Brain stem injuries could cause victims to suffer from impaired balance and coordination.

Locked-in Syndrome

Locked-in syndrome leaves victims fully paralyzed – except they can still use their eyes to blink and communicate. Most victims with this condition never regain full movement. Supportive care and computer programs can be used to help victims learn to communicate with different types of eye movements.

Seek Legal Help After a Crash That Leaves You Injured – We Are Here to Help

Victims who suffer brain stem injuries in a crash may be eligible to seek significant compensation from the at-fault party. However, deadlines apply in Pennsylvania and having an experienced attorney on your side can make the legal process a lot less confusing.

At Schmidt Kramer, we have a history of proven results – we have recovered millions in compensation for our clients. We are ready to fight to recover the full and fair compensation you deserve.

If we represent you, there are no upfront costs to pay, so there is no risk to you. We only get paid if you do.

Call 24/7 to find out if you have legal options. (717) 727-1403