The Centers for Disease Control estimates that more than 150 people in the United States die every day from traumatic brain injuries. Those injuries account for 2.8 million annual emergency room visits, and almost 10% of those visits result in hospital admissions. Children and elderly people are particularly susceptible to problems from traumatic brain injuries.
No single test can verify a traumatic brain injury. Trained medical professionals will use common diagnostic techniques, such as MRIs and CAT scans, but even those advanced tests can fail to detect an injury. Unfortunately, delays in diagnosing and treating traumatic brain injuries can cause severe long-term consequences, including permanent loss of motor and psychological skills.
Preventing those adverse consequences is a matter of examining the big picture, from the cause and onset of the injury through recognition of some of the more subtle signs that a person might have suffered a traumatic brain injury.
What were the causes and immediate effects of the injury?
Any blow to a person’s head, regardless of how mild, can be the catalyst for a brain injury. If a person experiences a head impact in and automobile collisions, a slip and fall accident, a violent altercations, or a sporting event, observers should increase their vigilance for signs of a brain injury. They should note whether the person lost consciousness and, if so, for how long. Immediate symptoms may vary from symptoms that settle in after the initial impact, and symptoms should be compared over a stretch of time after the impact. Lastly, an observer should ask whether a the person suffered injuries to any other parts of his or her body, as that may lead to clues about impacts to the person’s head.
What are the critical signs of an injury?
In adults, those signs can include:
- physical symptoms, such as partial paralysis of facial muscles or limbs, loss or impairment of sight or other sensory abilities, dizziness or vertigo, headaches, swallowing problems, seizures, or extreme sensitivity to light or sounds;
- cognitive challenges, such as impaired memory and learning skills, poor reasoning and judgment, lack of attention span, difficulty with speaking or writing, and inability to maintain lines of thought and ideas in conversations;
- behavioral and personality changes, such as an increased willingness to engage in verbal and physical altercations, a higher tolerance for risky activities, and reduced self-assessment and judgment;
- emotional and psychological problems, such as episodes of depression and anxiety, sudden mood swings, unexplained feelings of anger or irritability, and inability to sleep.
Children and infants whose brain functions are still developing when they suffer a traumatic brain injury can exhibit other symptoms, including:
- appetite changes and different eating habits;
- extended bouts of crying with no ability to be consoled;
- persistent drowsiness and altered or unusual sleep cycles;
- depression and loss of interest in toys, friends, or regular activities;
- irritability and angry outbursts that exceed normal child development episodes.
What are the treatment options for a traumatic brain injury?
Treatments will vary as a function of whether the injury is determined to be mild, intermediate, or severe. A physician might prescribe diuretics or anti-seizure drugs. For intermediate and severe cases, a physician might recommend surgery to repair skull fractures and to stop inter-cranial bleeding. Persons that suffer cognitive or motor impairment will often require occupational, physical, and speech therapy to regain their lost skills.