Bleeding or swelling in the brain can cause pressure that forces the brain downward in the skull. The result may be a herniation, in which brain tissue is forced through a small natural opening in the relatively rigid sheets of tissue that separate the brain into right and left compartments and into upper and lower compartments. (These dividers are extensions of the outer layer of tissue covering the brain, the dura mater.) Herniation compresses brain tissue and thus damages it.
The most common type of herniation is a transtentorial herniation. Part of the temporal lobe is forced through the tentorial notch—the opening in the sheet of tissue between the temporal lobe and cerebellum. The pupil of the eye may become dilated and may not constrict in response to light. A transtentorial herniation can have catastrophic consequences, including paralysis, stupor, coma, abnormal heart rhythms, disturbances or cessation of breathing, cardiac arrest, and death.