What causes traumatic brain injury?
A traumatic brain injury usually results from a blow to the head, such as a direct hit like a car accident in which a person’s head hits the windshield. It also can occur from severe shaking in which there is no impact to the outside of the head, but a movement forceful enough to shake the brain inside the skull. An example may be a car accident in which the head shakes at the neck and is jolted but does not collide with a surface. A more extreme example is when an object impales the skull.
Traumatic brain injuries have been linked to sports such as football and soccer, combat injuries as diagnosed in war zones, falls and physical violence.
How bad are traumatic brain injuries?
The injury in any of these instances can range from mild to severe.
Individuals with a mild case may become dazed or confused. There could be a brief loss of consciousness, such as blacking out for a few seconds.
Other symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic, can include headache, dizziness, loss of balance, drowsiness, having trouble sleeping or sleeping more than usual, depression, anxiety, mood swings, behavioral changes, an inability to concentrate and memory problems. These patients may also experience blurry vision, ringing in the ears, an inability to smell or a bad taste in the mouth.
Individuals who suffer from moderate to severe traumatic brain injury may also experience loss of consciousness for up to several hours, an inability to wake up, headaches that worsen in severity or are persistent, tingling or numbness in their fingers or toes. They may also lack coordination, be confused, agitated or combative or slur their speech. Other symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, seizures or convulsions. Fluid draining from the ears or nose or dilated pupils can be an indication of a severe injury.
These may occur within a few days of the injury, but aren’t necessarily immediate.
In the most severe instance, such an injury can result in death. But a patient who survives may end up in a coma or vegetative state or become minimally conscious.
In cases of an open head injury, there is an added risk of infection. Health-care providers will closely monitor patients for a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid around the brain. This increases pressure, which can cause the brain to swell.
Patients who have experienced traumatic brain injuries can have problems writing and speaking. They may also have difficulty understanding what they hear, read or see. Therefore, it may be difficult for them to understand or participate in a conversation. They may also have trouble understanding social cues.
“Head trauma — when severe — can completely change a person’s ability to think, feel and accurately perceive reality,” psychiatrist Dr. Charles Raison said.
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