Injury or damage to the brain can impact the entire body. Damage to a small area of the brain can impact specific functions or cause extensive disabilities. Any disruption to the blood and oxygen supply to the brain can cause damage very quickly and the more extensive the disruption, the more extensive the damage.
Types of Brain Injury and Damage
Brain injuries are generally categorized as traumatic or non-traumatic. A traumatic brain injury (TBI) usually involves a physical impact to the body or brain. The most common cause of a TBI involves car accidents. Other common causes of TBIs include falls, violence, and recreational and sporting injuries. Brain trauma can be temporary or permanent. Immediate treatment can give the injury victim the best chance for recovery.
Non-traumatic brain, also called acquired brain injury (ABI), can be caused by illness, disease, infection, lack of oxygen, tumors, lack of blood supply, heart attack, metabolic disorders, or aneurysms. Treatment for a non-traumatic brain injury generally depends on the cause of the brain injury, often involving making sure the brain gets an adequate supply of oxygen and blood.
Traumatic Brain Injuries
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines a traumatic brain injury as, “a disruption in the normal function of the brain that can be caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head, or penetrating head injury.”
The severity of a TBI can range from mild and temporary to severe. Most TBIs are mild concussions, and generally result in a brief change in mental status or consciousness.
In 2014, there were about 2.87 million TBI-related emergency department (ED) visits, hospitalization, and deaths. Almost half of TBI-related ED visits involve a fall injury, more often involving children or older adults 65 years and older.
In 2017, there were approximately 61,000 TBI-related deaths in the U.S. The most common causes of TBI-related deaths include suicide, unintentional falls, motor vehicle crashes, and homicide.
Evaluating Brain Injury
There are a number of tests that can help diagnose possible brain injury. This includes speech and language tests, imaging tests like CT scans or MRIs, and the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS). The GCS score can be used to evaluate an individual's neurological state. The GCS evaluates the eye response, verbal response, and motor function, on a maximum 15 point scale. :
- Does not open eyes.
- Eyes open in response to pain stimulus.
- Eyes open in response to speech.
- Eyes open spontaneously.
- No verbal response.
- Makes incomprehensible sounds but no words.
- Makes inappropriate words, speaks words but no sentences.
- Confused or disorientation response.
- Oriented to speech, responds coherently and appropriately to questions.
- No motor response.
- Extension to painful stimulus (decerebrate response).
- Abnormal flexion to stimulus (decorticate response).
- Withdrawal from painful stimulus.
- Localizes to painful stimulus.
- Obeys commands.
A TBI is considered mild if the GCS is 13 to 15. A moderate TBI may have a GCS of 9 to 12. A GCS of 8 or lower may be considered a severe TBI. Other factors in evaluating the level of brain injury includes :
- Amount of time unconscious
- Time of memory loss
Signs and Symptoms of Brain Trauma
Brain injuries can be difficult to diagnose immediately after an injury. A mild concussion may show no symptoms in the short term but symptoms of the injury could develop over time. Even a seemingly minor trauma can cause symptoms that last for days or weeks.
Many people are hesitant to go to a doctor after signs of possible head trauma because they are not sure that there is anything wrong. Any possible brain injury should be addressed by a doctor as soon as possible. Signs and symptoms of a brain injury can fall into one of the following categories:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty remembering information
- Slowed or delayed thinking and response
- Difficulty thinking clearly
- Blurry vision
- Nausea or vomiting
- Sensitivity to light or noise
- Vertigo or balance problems
- Feeling tired or lethargic
- Emotional mood swings
- Sleeping more than normal
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Sleeping less than usual
Treatment for Brain Trauma
Treatment for a brain injury can depend on the cause of the trauma, extent of the injury, age of the patient, and overall health. For a concussion, a doctor may recommend rest with a gradual return to normal activity while continuing to monitor the patient for any changes. Factors that could delay recovery include a history of previous brain injury and neurological or mental health disorders.
Repeated Head Injury
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a brain disease that is caused by repeated brain injury, including concussions or hits to the head, or subconcussive head impacts. CTE is generally not diagnosed until after death.
People who participate recreationally or professionally in contact sports may be at risk of CTE, including:
- Ice hockey
- Mixed martial arts (MMA)
Family members often report signs of someone with suspected CTE to be noticing changes in the way the individual thinks, feels, behaves, and moves. Individuals may suffer depression, anxiety, memory problems, and personality changes. Symptoms may appear similar to Alzheimer's disease. There may also be a risk of suicide for individuals with CTE.
Birth Injuries and Brain Damage
Some of the most tragic brain injuries involve birth injuries, where a neonate or infant suffers head trauma in pregnancy or labor. An intracranial hemorrhage is a childbirth injury that involves bleeding somewhere inside the skull. An intracranial-subarachnoid hemorrhage involves bleeding between two membrane layers that encase the brain, the pia mater and the arachnoid mater.
Trauma during delivery can lead to brain bleeds, causing permanent mental and physical disabilities. This can occur with improper delivery techniques where a doctor uses delivery instruments like forceps or a vacuum extractor to deliver the baby. Consequences of a brain bleed include epilepsy, physical disabilities, and mental disabilities.
Brain Injury and Brain Trauma Attorneys
If a loved one suffered a brain injury in an accident or a doctor failed to properly treat a brain trauma patient, resulting in unnecessary damage, talk to an experienced attorney about your options for recovery. Do not hesitate to contact Gilman & Bedigian today for a free consultation.