A traumatic brain injury occurs when a blow or injury to the head causes damage to the brain. While not all head injuries result in brain damage, those that do can bruise the brain, tear nerve fibers or cause internal bleeding. Most traumatic brain injuries occur as a result of a fall, motor vehicle accident, a direct blow to the head or assault. Sports related injuries may also be the cause of some traumatic brain injuries. Severe traumatic brain injuries may lead to permanent brain damage or death.
Symptoms of Traumatic Brain Injury
The symptoms of a traumatic brain injury may be subtle, and may not appear until days or weeks after the injury has occurred. Common symptoms of a traumatic brain injury may include:
- Persistent headache or neck pain
- Loss of consciousness
- Memory problems
- Blurred vision
- Increased sensitivity to light
In addition to the symptoms above, severe brain injuries may cause loss of consciousness for several minutes to several hours, dilated pupils, weakness in the arms or legs, slurred speech and seizures or convulsions. It is important for patients to seek medical attention if these symptoms occur so that prompt treatment can be administered and permanent damage can be minimized.
Complications of Traumatic Brain Injury
Severe traumatic brain injuries may cause permanent brain damage and serious complications that may affect an individual's state of consciousness and awareness. Complications may include
- Fluid build up in the brain
- Vegetative state
- Nerve damage
- Blood vessel damage
After a severe traumatic brain injury, individuals may experience cognitive, behavioral and communication problems. As a result of the degeneration of brain cells and gradual loss of brain functions, individuals may also be at risk for developing Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease or dementia.
Diagnosis of Traumatic Brain Injury
Most traumatic brain injuries are considered emergency situations and are often diagnosed rapidly so that treatment can begin immediately. A physical examination will be performed and questions may be asked about how the injury occurred. Diagnostic tests may include MRI and CT scans. For severe brain injuries, a probe may inserted through the skull to monitor tissue swelling and pressure on the brain.
Treatment of Traumatic Brain Injury
In an emergency situation, initial treatment for a traumatic brain injury focuses on ensuring that the brain receives oxygen, maintaining adequate blood flow, and controlling blood pressure. Treatment for a traumatic brain injury depends on the severity of the injury. Mild brain injuries may simply involving resting and taking over-the-counter pain relievers to treat headache and mild symptoms. However, even if the brain injury is considered mild, the patient should be monitored closely at home for any worsening or new symptoms.
More severe traumatic brain injuries may be treated with prescription medication relieve pressure on the brain, reduce swelling, and minimize the extent of brain damage. Medication may include:
- Anti-seizure drugs
- Coma-inducing drugs
Pressure in the brain tends to increase after a brain injury, which can cause damage as certain structures expand within a confined space. Surgery may be required in some cases to remove blood clots trapped in the skull, repair skull fractures or, in severe cases, create an opening in the skull to relieve pressure when all other methods have failed.
Recovery from Traumatic Brain Injury
Most patients require rehabilitation after a traumatic brain injury, which may include methods for relearning basic skills such as walking, talking or feeding themselves. Rehabilitation services may include:
- Physical therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Speech therapy
- Psychiatric therapy
Rehabilitation focuses on helping patients restore their abilities to function at home and in their community. In many cases, significant brain damage cannot be reversed and will dramatically affect a person's life. A strong support system can help patients cope with these changes physically, cognitively and emotionally.