Traumatic Brain Injuries

By:    Published: March 5, 2012

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Traumatic brain injuries can be very serious and often come with long-term complications. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every year about 1.7 million people in the United States sustain a traumatic brain injury. It’s important to recognize the signs of a possible traumatic brain injury and to get treatment for the condition.

Definition

A traumatic brain injury, often referred to as a TBI, is a type of acquired brain injury resulting from a sudden trauma that causes damage to the brain. The damage may involve several factors, such as the tearing of cellular structures, damage to areas of brain cells, penetration of blood vessels and tissues or bleeding, swelling or blood clots in the brain.

Types

There are two main types of traumatic brain injuries:

Mild TBI

A mild traumatic brain injury is a less severe type of TBI. In many cases, the dysfunction of brain cells that result from a mild TBI are only temporary and are not life-threatening. However, there are cases of mild TBI that have serious effects. Most mild traumatic brain injuries are concussions that result from a blow, bump or jolt to the head. The head doesn’t even need to come into contact with anything for a concussion to occur; if the head moves back and forth too quickly, the brain can collide with the skull and cause a concussion.

Severe TBI

Sever traumatic brain injuries are much more serious as far as the results of the injury. In many cases, the accidents that cause severe TBIs are more violent as well. There are two main types of severe traumatic brain injuries.

  • The first is a closed TBI, meaning that the injury was caused by the brain moving within the skull.
  • The second is a penetrating TBI, which means the injury was caused by a foreign object entering the skull.

With both types of severe TBI, serious effects involving motor function, cognitive function, sensations and emotions can result.

Symptoms

The two different types of TBIs can come with different symptoms. The symptoms of a mild traumatic brain injury may include:

  • Fatigue or drowsiness
  • Excessive sleeping
  • Dizziness or loss of balance
  • Headaches
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Loss of consciousness that lasts from a few seconds or a few minutes
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Mood changes or mood swings
  • Sensory problems like blurred vision or ringing in the ears
  • Memory or concentration problems

The symptoms of a severe traumatic brain injury may include any of the symptoms of a mild TBI along with any of the symptoms listed below:

  • Profound confusion
  • Loss of consciousness that lasts from a few minutes to several hours
  • Slurred speech
  • Agitation or unusual behavior
  • Weakness or numbness in the extremities
  • Loss of bladder control or bowel control
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Dilation of the pupils
  • Clear fluids draining from the nose or ears

It’s important to note that the symptoms of a TBI may be slightly different in children. In addition to the symptoms above, children with a TBI may also exhibit the followings signs:

  • Persistent crying and inability to be consoled
  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Changes in the ability to pay attention
  • Unusual irritability
  • Changes in nursing or eating habits
  • Loss of interest in toys or favorite activities

Causes And Risk Factors

Traumatic brain injuries occur whenever the brain has sustained damage due to a sudden incident. This can be a fall, a blow to the head, a sports injury or a car crash. Shaken baby syndrome is a possible cause of TBI in infants. Those exposed to explosive blasts may also experience a TBI. In addition, any kind of object penetrating the skull can cause a traumatic brain injury.

Being active in sports or the military can increase the risk for a traumatic brain injury depending on the types of activities involved in each. In addition, people in certain age groups are more likely to sustain a TBI. Those groups include:

  • Children (especially newborns to those 4 years of age)
  • Teenagers (especially those from ages 15 to 19)
  • Adults over 65

Prevention

Because of the accidental nature of many of the injuries, many TBIs cannot be prevented. However, wearing seatbelts in the car and helmets for the appropriate sports (bicycling, skateboarding, football, etc.), can prevent traumatic brain injuries. Precaution should also be used anytime firearms, alcohol or drugs are involved.

Falls are a major cause of TBIs, so taking precautions to prevent them is important, especially for older adults and children. Installing handrails and non-slip mats in bathrooms, safety gates at the top of stairs and window guards on low windows are all good ways to prevent these types of injuries.

Treatment

Because traumatic brain injuries can result in serious brain problems or even death, it’s important that they are treated immediately. With mild TBIs, the patient needs to be closely monitored. Sometimes no treatment is necessary, but it’s still important to visit a medical professional to determine if this is the case.

In more severe cases, steps may be taken to minimizing bleeding or swelling. Surgery to repair skill fractures, remove a blood clot or relieve pressure in the brain may be necessary. Medications may also be prescribed to treat the patient.

In addition to immediate care, many TBIs require long-term care due to the effects on the brain. There are numerous rehabilitation specialists which may help with this process, including neuropsychologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech and language pathologists or rehabilitation nurses.

The most important thing to understand about traumatic brain injuries is that they always require immediate medical attention, even if the initial injury appears to be mild. The damages that can occur to the brain may not be entirely visible at first, and it’s critical to have a medical professional examine any individual who has sustained a TBI.

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