All organs in the body work together to create a seamless system that allows your body to function, but none are so important as the brain. The brain is the body’s control center, directing the rest of the body to do everything from breathing to moving, as well as regulating important systems like heart rate, blood pressure, sleep patterns, and anything else important to your health and life. In order to protect this important organ from any harm, the brain is not only protected by the hard shell of the skull, but it also sits in a spinal fluid that helps to absorb shock or impact. When this protection is able to be bypassed, it can cause a traumatic brain injury.
A traumatic brain injury is defined as an injury to the brain that disrupts the normal function of the brain, caused by a bump or blow to the head, a sudden movement of the body, or penetration of the brain tissue. Brain function is considered altered when consciousness or amnesia occurs, when there is an apparent neurological deficit, or when a prolonged alteration in mental state occurs. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and may require varying treatment.
The most common scenario that causes a traumatic brain injury is a simple blow to the head. This can be the head hitting against a surface which could happen with car accident injuries, falls, or a contact sports injury. It may also be a result of an object hitting the head, like debris or even a gunshot wound.
Penetrating wounds are rarer, but can also occur and result in a traumatic brain injury.
These conditions can also occur without direct contact with the head. If the body is jolted, like during the impact of a vehicular collision, the brain can move forcefully enough to hit the skull despite the fluid surrounding it. This can cause the same problems as an external blow to the head might.
Young children, athletes, and adults over the age of 60 are all particularly vulnerable to traumatic brain injuries.
The most commonly sustained head injury is a concussion, which is generally considered a mild traumatic brain injury. The term concussion refers to any injury severe enough to cause a disturbance to the brain. It is typically accompanied by headaches, temporary cognitive issues, or migraine-like symptoms. Most concussions heal well with little intervention, though they can be more serious. Repeated concussions over a period of time can also cause permanent damage. Outside of concussions, there are a number of other common traumatic brain injuries.
One category of these injuries has to do with blood in the brain. A hematoma is a collection, or a clotting, of blood outside of the blood vessels. These can occur anywhere in the body, but a hematoma in the brain is especially serious as it can lead to pressure accumulating inside the skull. This pressure may lead to a loss of consciousness or even permanent brain damage. The brain can also hemorrhage, in which uncontrolled bleeding occurs. This can be in the space around your brain (a subarachnoid hemorrhage), which leads to nausea and vomiting, or within the brain tissue (intracerebral hemorrhage). An intracerebral hemorrhage can lead to pressure build-up as the blood accumulates over time.
Any brain injury can cause swelling, also known as edema. This is more common in the tissues surrounding your brain, but in severe cases, the brain itself can swell. The skull cannot stretch to accommodate this swelling, which leads to pressure in the brain. The brain then begins to push against the skull, which can cause further issues. One of the reasons this is common is the skull does not contain bone marrow like most other bones, meaning it is extremely strong and difficult to break. In cases where the skull fractures, it can no longer absorb impact, leaving your brain vulnerable to further injury.
Diffuse axonal injury, also known as sheer injury, is any injury to the brain that doesn’t cause bleeding but does cause damage to the brain cells, resulting in the brain cells losing proper function. This may also lead to swelling and further damage. This form of traumatic brain injury isn’t outwardly visible, but is one of the most dangerous head injuries possible, often leading to permanent brain damage or even death.
Brain injuries should always be treated as quickly as possible, so it is important to identify any signs or symptoms. However, it can also be difficult as you may not always notice some of the common signs in yourself. Symptoms may also not appear for hours or days after the original impact has occurred. Monitoring yourself and having outside observation are both important when there is potential for a head injury.
Common symptoms of a minor head injury can include:
In more severe head injuries, symptoms can include the above, as well as the following:
Any sign of a head injury should be treated promptly, but if these more serious symptoms occur, emergency care is crucial.
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When you visit a doctor to assess a potential head injury, they will first focus on determining the type and severity of the issue. They will look to rule out any serious issues that require emergency treatment and make a determination from there. A common tool is the Glasgow Coma Scale, a test that assesses your mental status and abilities. Along with this, they will ask about the circumstances of your injury; if you have trouble recalling the event, bringing a witness can be helpful. There will also be a physical exam, looking for things like bruising, and tests of your reflexes, balance, and nerve function. Diagnostic imaging tests like MRIs or CT scans may also be used for more detailed information.
The way a head injury is treated depends on the type and severity of the injury.
Minor injuries like concussions are often treated with rest, avoidance of physical activity and mental strain, and careful monitoring. Any new or worsening symptoms are important to report to your doctor.
Serious head injuries may require medication, such as anti-seizure medication or diuretics, to help relieve pressure in your brain. You may need to be hospitalized with certain types of injuries. Surgery can be necessary to remove a hematoma, repair a broken skull, or release pressure in the head in some emergency situations.
When you suspect a brain injury, the doctors at AICA College Park will be able to assess your situation and provide an accurate diagnosis and comprehensive treatment plan. With access to a range of specialists, you will be able to benefit from a holistic approach that focuses on your recovery. At the first sign of a potential brain injury or head pain, contact AICA College Park to schedule your first appointment today.