Glossary of medical terms for brain injuries

A collection of important terms to understand brain injuries

Decompressive craniectomy: Removing part of the skull to relieve pressure inside the brain. Brain swelling can lead to death so removing part of the skull allows the brain room to expand without bruising.

Glasgow coma scale (GCS): This is a neurological scale used to obtain a reliable, objective way of recording the conscious state of a person for ongoing treatment.

Hypothermia (Lowering body temperature):This helps relieve swelling and allows the brain to heal.  Hypothermia as a treatment for brain swelling is not widely used because it is difficult to perform correctly.   

Increased intracranial pressure: After brain injury, the skull may become overfilled with swollen brain tissue, blood, or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). The hard skull will not stretch to deal with these changes. The skull may become too full and increase the pressure on the brain tissue.

IV fluids: Giving fluids and medicine through an IV can keep blood pressure from dropping too low. This helps to make sure that the body -- including the brain -- is receiving enough blood. Fluids and medicine can also help fight off any infection that may contribute to brain swelling.

Left hemisphere/right hemisphere: The left side of the brain is mostly used for communication. The right side is critical for receiving and analyzing data from the outside world.

MRI: A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of the head is used to take detailed pictures of the brain and surrounding nerve tissues. Powerful magnets and radio waves are used to create the images.

Oxygen therapy: Providing oxygen through a respirator or other means helps make sure that the blood has enough oxygen in it.

Positron emission tomography (PET): This is a type of nuclear medicine imaging. A PET scan measures body functions, such as blood flow, oxygen use, and sugar (glucose) metabolism to help doctors evaluate how well organs and tissues are functioning.

Ventriculostomy: In this procedure, a surgeon cuts a small hole in the skull and inserts a plastic drain tube. Cerebrospinal fluid is drained from inside the brain, helping to relieve the pressure.

Sources: WebMD, University of Iowa Health Care, Medline Plus