A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is defined as sudden damage to the brain resulting from a blow or jolt to the head. Common causes of TBI include: falls, motor vehicle accidents, sports injuries, violence, explosions and combat injuries.
It is estimated that over 2.8 million Americans suffer a traumatic brain injury in the United States every year. Of those 2.8 million affected 50,000 will die. For those who survive, the range of experiences will vary from complete recovery without any residual impairments to profoundly affected, unable to experience life as they knew it before. These numbers only include those individuals who seek care following an injury and given the fact that many patients who experience ‘mild’ symptoms do not seek care, it is likely that these numbers underestimate the scope of the problem.
The severity of these injuries to the brain are categorized as mild, moderate or severe. Mild injuries are called concussions and are often associated with symptoms including: headaches, nausea and vomiting, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), dizziness, visual disturbances, and drowsiness. More severe forms of TBI include loss of consciousness, that can last for prolonged periods of time and can require hospitalization and intensive care unit admission. In severe cases, patients can suffer permanent dysfunction. Some of the consequences of more severe TBI include changes in cognition, speech, memory, ability to pay attention, and personality changes. Psychiatric changes that can occur include development of anxiety and depression, and substance abuse. For many patients substance abuse is a form of self-medication in attempts to treat their symptoms.
Severe TBI requires hospitalization in the intensive care unit, and usually results in some form of chronic or permanent disability. A single concussion doesn’t usually have long-term consequences, however in situations where another concussion is experienced following incomplete recovery from the first, long-term consequences can include: sleep disturbances, chronic headaches, impaired memory, balance disturbances, and changes in mood.
There are simple common sense ways to decrease ones risk of experiencing a traumatic brain injury. Things that most people do regularly, like wearing seatbelts every time you ride in a motor vehicle, wearing helmets when riding bicycles or motorcycles, not driving impaired (whether from substances or fatigue or other conditions that negatively affect performance), and modifying the homes of elderly patients to remove fall-hazards. Prescription drug interactions should be screened for in patients who take multiple medications, especially pain medications and anxiety medications.
Some accidents may be unavoidable, but there are precautions that may serve to minimize the harm caused by accidents. Simple actions with potentially profound effects. Please be safe out there, the life you save may be your own.
In good health,