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Brain lesions: Causes, symptoms, treatments

You scrape your knee, and that's a lesion, an area of damage on the skin of your leg.  What are lesions in the brain and what causes them? How serious are brain lesions? Here is information about this confusing and unsettling health concern. Read on to find out what the symptoms are and how brain lesions are treated.

What are brain lesions?

A lesion is an area of tissue that has been damaged through injury or disease. So a brain lesion is an area of injury or disease within the brain. While the definition sounds simple, understanding brain lesions can be complicated. That's because there are many types of brain lesions. They can range from small to large, from few to many, from relatively harmless to life-threatening.

What causes brain lesions?

Brain lesions can be caused by injury, infection, exposure to certain chemicals, problems with the immune system, and more. Many times the cause is not known.

What symptoms might indicate a brain lesion?

Symptoms of a brain lesion vary depending on the type, location and size of the lesion. Symptoms common to several types of brain lesions include the following:

  • Headaches
  • Neck pain or stiffness
  • Nausea, vomiting and lack of appetite
  • Vision changes or eye pain
  • Changes in mood, personality, behaviour, mental ability and concentration
  • Memory loss or confusion
  • Seizures
  • Fever
  • Difficulty moving

What are the different types of brain lesions?

Although they share a common definition, injury or damage to tissue within the brain, brain lesions vary greatly. Here are some common brain lesions:

  • Abscesses: Brain abscesses are areas of infection, including pus and inflamed tissue. They are not common, but they are life threatening. Brain abscesses often occur after an infection, usually in a nearby area, such as an ear, sinus or dental infection. They can also appear after injury or surgery to the skull.
  • Alzheimer's disease and other dementias: Alzheimer's disease and some types of dementia are another group of brain lesions. In these lesions, nerve cells die, leaving behind damaged areas of the brain.  Gradually, brain function in those areas decreases.
  • Arteriovenous malformations (AVMs): An AVM is a type of brain lesion that occurs during early development. Arteries and veins in the brain grow in a tangle and become connected by tube-like structures called fistulae. The arteries are not as strong as normal.  The veins are often too wide because of the constant flow of blood directly from the arteries through the fistulae to the veins. These fragile vessels may rupture, leaking blood into the brain. In addition, the brain tissue may not receive enough blood to function properly.
  • Cerebral infarction: Infarction refers to death of tissue. So a cerebral infarction is a brain lesion in which a cluster of brain cells have died. Most often, this brain lesion is caused by a stroke.
  • Cerebral palsy: This type of brain lesion occurs early in a child's development, from before birth until the age of three. Cerebral palsy does not progress over time.  The brain lesions affect the child's ability to move, which can also make communication and related skills difficult.
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS): With this condition, the immune system attacks and damages the nerve linings in the brain and spinal cord. These lesions make it difficult for messages to be sent and received properly between the brain and the rest of the body.
  • Tumours: Tumours are clumps of cells that grow abnormally from normal tissue. Some tumours in the brain are noncancerous, or benign. Others are cancerous. They may start in the brain, or they may spread from elsewhere in the body. They may grow quickly or they may remain stable.

WebMD Medical Reference

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