The Ultimate Guide To Brain Injuries
“Brain injury is unpredictable in its consequences and can change everything about us in a matter of seconds,” says the Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA). If you received a considerable blow to the head, don’t ignore it. It may seem like a negligible bump or bruise, but a serious brain injury can occur without urgent symptoms. Without proper treatment, this injury could develop into a costly, life-altering condition, and or even result in death.
Here’s what you should know about brain injuries, and what you should do if you suspect you have one.
Surprising Facts About Brain Injuries In The US
Did you know that in the US, someone gets a brain injury every nine seconds? This surprising statistic from the BIAA shows just how vulnerable the brain is and how we are too often exposed to injurious situations. Take a look at these numbers:
- More than 3.5 million adults and children get an acquired brain injury (ABI) annually. An ABI is brain injury that is not congenital, hereditary, or degenerative. It is often caused by external force.
- One type of ABI is traumatic brain injury (TBI). This occurs to at least 2.5 million people in the US every year.
- Some 5.3 million Americans live with a TBI-related disability.
- Sadly, about 50,000 of Americans with TBI pass away each year.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declares that traumatic brain injury is a major cause of death and disability in the US. Knowing this, it is vital for more people to be aware of what a head bump can cause and how to properly address it.
Top Causes Of Brain Injuries
These are the leading causes of traumatic brain injury, according to the BIAA:
- Falls. Nearly half (40.5 percent) of TBI cases are due to someone falling.
- Being struck by or against an object. This accounts for 15.5 percent of TBI cases.
- Motor vehicle crashes contribute 14.3 percent of all traumatic brain injuries.
- Assaults account for 10.7 percent of TBIs.
Other common causes of brain injuries (not just TBI) include:
- Electric shock
- Infectious disease
- Oxygen deprivation (such as in near-drowning)
- Substance abuse
- Toxic exposure
Another TBI cause worth highlighting are sports or recreational contacts. A 2016 study estimates that 3.8 million sports-related concussions occur every year in the US, with about half unreported.
The CDC echoes this, noting that children in particular suffer from brain injuries that are sports- or recreation related. According to the agency, the recreational activities that contribute the most TBI emergencies in this demographic are:
- Playground activities
Experts think that many head injuries in sports go unreported because people don’t know better. They ignore symptoms, think the injury is not serious, and aren’t willing to be taken out of their game.
Common Head Injuries And The Severe Consequences
While many simply wait for a head jolt to go away on its own, even mild concussions can sometimes have serious effects if left untreated. Consider these common types of traumatic brain injury:
This is medically called mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), and is the most common injury to the brain. It results when the brain is forcefully shaken inside the skull.
A concussion may heal after some rest, but in more severe cases there are lasting impacts such as memory loss, sensitivity to light, concentration issues, personality changes, and psychological problems.
If your head was hit by something and you experience symptoms such as confusion, headaches, and passing out, see a doctor immediately.
Contusion (Coup-contrecoup Injury)
While a concussion refers to the shaking of the brain, a contusion is the actual bruising of this organ. A bruise is a mild form of bleeding, and when it occurs on the brain, it can cause extensive damage.
Brain contusions often occur as “coup-contrecoup injuries.” A “coup” injury is when the brain slams into the skull at the point of impact, while “contrecoup” is when the brain swings back and hits the opposite side of the skull. These two often occur together.
For example, if a car occupant slams their head on the dashboard, the brain may get a contusion on the front side (impact of the dashboard) and on the back side (brain ‘bounces’ to the back side of the skull). Similarly, this dual injury can occur if a person’s head is hit on the left or right side.
Contusion symptoms depend on which parts of the brain are affected. For instance, when the brain’s frontal lobe is damaged, the patient may have diminished language skills, poor decision-making, impaired moral judgment, and decreased intelligence.
When there are coup-contrecoup contusions, the damage is usually substantial and often leads to irreversible brain conditions. In these cases, medical care is no longer focused on treatment but on supporting the brain functions of patients.
Diffuse Axonal Injury (DAI)
Another way the brain could be harmed is by stretching, twisting, or tearing its connecting nerve fibers called axons. This can happen when the head moves abruptly and forcefully.
The injury is called “Diffuse Axonal Injury” because the affected axons are usually scattered in many brain regions. Because of this, numerous brain functions are disrupted and the patient likely goes to a coma. Estimates state than 90 percent of people with severe DAI will never regain consciousness.
DAI is extremely challenging to address because it occurs at a microscopic level, making it hard to detect with an MRI or CT scan. There are also scarce treatment options for this injury. Doctors aim instead to prevent complications, and for survivors, they may recommend specific therapies and rehabilitation.
“Hematoma” is the medical term for a ruptured blood vessel. When it occurs inside the skull, it is an intracranial hematoma. This injury is dangerous because it causes bleeding or blood clots on surrounding tissues. Depending on the size of the hematoma, patients can become seriously ill and even need life support.
There are various subtypes of intracranial hematoma, including:
- Epidural hematoma – blood collects between the skull and the brains outer layer (dura)
- Subdural hematoma – blood collects outside the brain but within its outer membrane (dura)
- Intracerebral hematoma – blood collects within the brain tissue itself.
Open Head Injury
Unlike the injuries discussed above, which occur while the head or skull remains intact, a penetrating brain injury involves an opening in the head due to an entering object. Some examples are gunshots, punctures from sharp objects, stab wounds, and broken pieces of skull that enter the brain.
A penetrating brain injury is life-threatening as it typically causes heavy blood loss from the head. It also disrupts bodily functions that are controlled by the damaged brain regions. In many cases, open head injuries lead to seizures, coma, and several related injuries such as hematomas.
The Cost Of A Brain Injury
Head injuries are terrifying because they can completely change someone’s life. They also entail massive expenses for the patient and their family, sometimes, for the rest of their lives.
Doctors estimate that the lifetime costs of a person’s traumatic brain injury can run anywhere from $85,000 to $3 million.
We’ve compiled some of the estimated costs of brain injury diagnosis and treatment in the US:
- Head MRI – $1,000 to $5,000
- Brain CT scan – $1,200 (average)
- Burr hole trephination (drilling the skull to eliminate hematoma) – $7,588 (average)
- Craniotomy (opening the skull to reduce hematoma pressure inside) – $10,716 (average)
- Brain surgery (general) – $50,000 to $150,000
- Therapy with psychologist – $251 per session (private practice).
Other expenses related to head injuries include medications, hospital fees, ambulance fees, and specific therapy costs such as for speech, language, and motor skills.
It’s important to remember the indirect financial impact of a serious brain injury. Survivors and their families typically have to adjust their lifestyles due to job loss or the loss of earning capacity. Those whose injuries resulted in a disability have to make additional arrangements such as for wheelchairs, home modifications (like ramps and railings), and caregivers.
On top of these, social relationships and enjoyment of life may diminish, especially when a brain injury survivor suffers a psychological effect like depression, phobia, or anxiety.
Protecting Yourself And Loved Ones From Brain Injuries
With the knowledge that any brain injury can have devastating consequences, it is paramount for all of us to keep our heads safe from harm. Here are some vital safety tips to practice:
Head Safety On The Road
- Wear your seatbelt. Urge your loved ones to do the same.
- Check that your vehicle is in safe condition before heading out.
- Never drive while intoxicated.
- Avoid driving distractions such as mobile phones, portable gadgets, and food.
- If you are on a bicycle or motorcycle, wear a helmet and other safety gear.
Head Safety In Sports And Recreation
- Always wear the prescribed head gear, even during practice.
- Use only equipment that is prescribed for your age group (balls, bats, and so on).
- Before starting an activity, check equipment to make sure it is safe to use
- Ensure that the area is free from slipping or tripping hazards.
- If you are a coach or a parent, create a safe sports culture by talking to the players about safety and enforcing safety rules.
Head Safety At Home
- Regularly inspect your house for safety hazards that need to be fixed, such as rickety stairs, unstable decks, and uneven flooring.
- Clear up tripping hazards like floor clutter and walkway gravel.
- Install handrails and anti-slip mats in the bathroom.
- Ensure that every room and pathway is well-lit.
- If you have small children or elderly loved ones, install safety measures such as gates at the stairs, shock-absorbing flooring, and window guards.
Brain Injury Symptoms To Watch Out For
Practicing safety significantly reduces our risk of head injuries. Unfortunately, there are still times when getting hit in the head is unavoidable. If you or a loved one recently sustained a head jolt or blow, look out for these signs of brain injury:
- Being disoriented or confused
- Dizziness or loss of balance/coordination
- Dilation of one or both pupils
- Loss of consciousness
- Fatigue or drowsiness
- Speech problems (slurring, stuttering)
- Sleeping difficulties or changes
- Numbness or weakness in the limbs
- Clear fluid coming out of nose or ear
- Seizure or convulsion.
- Ringing in the ears
- Blurred vision
- Bad taste in the mouth
- Sensitivity to light or sound
Mental or Cognitive Symptoms
- Memory problems
- Concentration difficulties
- Mood swings
- Agitation or combativeness
- Feelings of depression or anxiety
Many symptoms are not immediately apparent. Some may seem harmless irregularities with nothing to do with brain health. But if you experience two or more of these signs, especially after receiving a blow to the head, medical attention may be crucial.
What To Do If Your Head Is Injured
- Call 911 if the head injury involves bleeding, loss of consciousness, black-and blue discoloration around the eyes, a penetrating object, seizures, or interruption in breathing. Any one of these signs can indicate a serious brain injury requiring emergency room care.
- See a doctor. Even if your injury does not look serious, consulting a doctor is always the best thing to do after you’ve hurt your head. A professional medical examination can detect a brain injury that you may not have immediately seen.
- You will need plenty of rest and sleep. Avoid activities that are physically or mentally demanding. You’ll also want to refrain from driving until your doctor says it is okay.
- Avoid alcohol and other drugs as they have adverse effects on the brain, putting you at risk of further injury.
If your head injury was caused by someone else’s negligent actions – such as in a car accident or a recreational accident – you may also consult a lawyer to learn about legal remedies for you. A brain injury is devastatingly costly, and it would be unthinkable if someone else’s fault put this burden on you.
Thankfully, there are legal avenues through which you may be compensated. The monetary payment from a successful legal claim can help with the expenses and stress following your injury.
When it comes to head injuries, don’t hesitate to consult with a professional. A doctor’s visit can save you from potentially deadly consequences, and a consultation with a lawyer may lead to compensation for your brain injury expenses.
I’m with you every step of the way.
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