Chicago residents who have endured the effects of a brain injury, or who have witnessed the struggles that loved ones face following a diagnosis, understand how devastating these injuries can be. Although they are commonly caused during serious car collisions, brain injuries can result from any injury to the head, even from seemingly minor bumps or falls. The effects that a brain injury has on an individual is unpredictable, so even if two patients experience similar traumas, their symptoms may be wildly different. This lack of a baseline from which doctors can operate makes brain injuries one of the most complicated conditions for doctors to successfully treat.
Types of brain injuries
The Brain Injury Association of America states that there are two main types of brain injuries: traumatic brain injury and acquired brain injury. A TBI is defined as an alteration in brain function or brain pathology that is caused by an external force. An acquired brain injury is any injury to the brain that occurs after birth. Doctors consider any brain injury that is not a TBI to be acquired.
TBIs are often broken down into two subgroups: closed head injuries and penetrating injuries. Closed head injuries involve the patient receiving a blow to the head. When a foreign object, such as a bullet or nail, enters the brain and causes damage to localized areas along the object’s path, doctors classify it as a penetrating injury.
Some brain injuries occur when the brain does not move at the same rate as the skull, and structures within the organ tear. Contusions, or bruises, may also form on the brain following a severe accident in which the brain collides with the inside of the skull. In some cases, the impact can be so severe that a patient experiences a contusion at the impact site as well as on the exact opposite side of the brain, where it has reversed motion to collide with the skull again. This type of injury is often seen after a severe car accident. One of the most widely recognized brain injuries, the concussion, occurs when the brain is damaged from a sudden change in movement or impact. Blood vessels and cranial nerves are often damaged in this type of trauma. All brain injuries can take months or years to heal.
After an injuring event happens, secondary damage may begin to set in. Swelling and increased pressure in the skull are two of the most common types of secondary damage to occur, but other types include the following:
- Brain infection
- Blood pressure issues
- Changes in the heart and lungs
When a brain is injured, many neurons, or brain cells, are damaged or destroyed at the time of the injury or due to secondary damage. This prevents important messages from reaching the body and can manifest in many different ways by affecting the way a person speaks, acts, feels, thinks and moves. Different areas of the brain are responsible for different functions, so if that specific part of the brain is damaged, an individual’s ability to perform that function may be diminished or completely eradicated.
Due to the complexity of these injuries, doctors are still not able to accurately predict a patient’s outcome. Some individuals with severe trauma can regain most or all of their functions after completing varying amounts of therapy while others with comparatively minor injuries remain severely disabled for the rest of their lives. No two injuries are ever alike.
Today, patients with brain injuries are simply monitored and kept as comfortable as possible following an accident. When patients are admitted, doctors will do everything they can to ensure that the damage does not progress, but doctors usually have a “wait and see” attitude about the long-term effects that may occur. This is because there is currently no treatment available that has been scientifically proven to reduce or reverse the effects of these injuries.
In a global collaboration, researchers at 150 sites in 21 countries are currently studying the effects of progesterone on brain injury patients in the Study of the Neuroprotective Activity of Progesterone in Severe Traumatic Brain Injuries. The drug, a hormone typically associated with pregnancy, may be a promising treatment and has been shown in preliminary studies to reduce inflammation in the brain, restore the blood-brain barrier, and decrease cell death, all of which would help reduce secondary damage and help patients heal more quickly. However, little research has been done in this area in the past and this is one of very few endeavors among the scientific community to find medical solutions to the condition.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that TBIs occur as many as 2.5 million times a year and contributed to the deaths of more than 50,000 people throughout 2010. Car accidents remain one of the greatest overall causes of TBIs for patients of all ages, with only falls and unintentional blunt trauma causing more instances of the condition. When examining only TBI-related deaths from 2006 to 2010, the second leading cause of the fatal condition was car collisions.
These statistics become shockingly real for many families in Chicago and around the nation. The Washington Post reports that a young junior at Tufts University in Boston was recently struck by an inattentive driver while walking in a crosswalk. His head went through the windshield of the car, causing a severe traumatic brain injury with extensive damage at the cellular level. The collision was so severe, doctor’s believed he could be permanently disabled. The man made a rare recovery after a year of rehabilitation, although he is expected to deal with cognitive issues for the rest of his life.
Another study found the risks faced by those who suffer from brain injuries. You can read about the findings and Howard’s thoughts here.
Those who have experienced a brain injury due to another person’s negligence should contact a personal injury attorney to discuss their case and the possibility of seeking compensation for their injuries.