Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a worldwide health concern characterized by an injury to the brain caused by a force from external sources. It typically happens following an accident that injured the brain, resulting in disrupted brain functions. The patient outcome following traumatic brain injuries usually depends on the extent of the trauma that the brain sustained.
In the United States, many permanent disabilities and deaths are recorded secondary to traumatic brain injuries. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that in 2013 alone, approximately 56,000 deaths were related to TBI while 2.5 to 6.5 million Americans suffer from long-term TBI-related disabilities. The number of TBI-related deaths has been consistently greater in men compared to women from 2001 to 2010.
Common Causes of Traumatic Brain Injury
According to a 2013 statistics provided by the CDC, the most common mechanisms of traumatic brain injuries regardless of age and sex were:
- Falls: There was an 18% increase in the TBI-related cases and hospitalizations of elderly adults (75 years old and above) secondary to falls from 2007 to 2013. The CDC called the attention of healthcare providers and caregivers to address certain modifiable health risks in order to prevent fall-related injuries.
- Being struck by an object: Being struck in the head by or against an object took the second spot in 2013.
- Motor-vehicular crashes and collisions: In 2007, motor-vehicular accidents were the leading cause of deaths secondary to traumatic brain injuries. The rate decreased by 32% in 2013, however, and was replaced by intentional self-harm as the leading cause of TBI-related deaths.
Alarmingly, a 2010 data showed that aside from motor-vehicular accidents, assaults were one of the leading causes of traumatic brain injuries for people who are 15 to 44 years old.
Signs and Symptoms of Traumatic Brain Injury
Some people who have TBI do not have visible injuries. To establish the possibility of a TBI, here are the signs and symptoms you have to look for. Be sure to call 911 if you observe:
- Loss of consciousness
- Change in mental status during and after the accident
- Alteration in senses and weakening of body functions after the accident
- Reported loss of memory during, before, or after the accident happened
- Repeated nausea and vomiting immediately after the accident
- Convulsions and seizures
- A persistent headache that’s getting worse
- Weakness or inability to use extremities
- Pain in the neck following the injury
Health-Related Problems Following a Traumatic Brain Injury
There are two subcategories of injuries secondary from trauma to the brain:
1. Primary injury
A primary injury occurs during the trauma itself. There are many types of primary injuries. They include:
- Skull fractures and cranial nerve damage. Skull fractures can be open or closed, and depressed or nondepressed. Discharges from the nose and ears can signify a fracture of the base of the skull.
- Auditory problems. You might experience loss of hearing and dizziness following a TBI even without sustaining a fracture of the skull.
- Intracranial hemorrhage is bleeding in the brain due to lacerated or torn blood vessels.
- Contusion. A cerebral contusion occurs when there are vascular bleeding and damage to the brain tissues.
- Concussion. A concussion is characterized by deep brain tissue deformities that can lead to an impaired level of consciousness and coma.
2. Secondary injury
A secondary injury is a condition that occurs immediately after the trauma.
- Cerebral edema. Collection of fluid in the brain.
- Hydrocephalus. This happens when there is an obstruction in the brain that prevents the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from being reabsorbed, making it accumulate inside the brain.
- Brain herniation. In brain herniation, the brain structures are displaced from their original position, leading to the compression of adjacent structures.
- Chronic traumatic encephalopathy. This condition is common in patients who have repetitive trauma to the brain like those who play extreme and contact sports. It is a degenerative disease that usually begins after months or even years since the injury was sustained. It results in poor brain function that can start from confusion, memory loss and impaired judgment to progressive dementia.
How Can You Improve Recovery?
The recovery stage following a TBI can range from months to years, depending on the severity of the injury.
For patients who are in a state of coma, it is important to prevent coma complications from developing such as infection. Using an air mattress prevents pressure sores, another common complication of being in a coma. The shorter the period of coma and loss of memory, the better the prognosis for the patient. Patients who have suffered from a TBI will have to undergo various rehabilitation and therapies in an attempt to improve bodily functions and quality of life. Social support from friends and family members can also contribute to a better and faster recovery.