New Yorkers suffer traumatic brain injuries daily due to workplace falls, serious car accidents, sports-related incidents, physical assaults and other random events. These serious head injuries cause damage to the skull, brain or scalp. They frequently range from a small bump on the head to an internal brain injury that can make coping with everyday life much more difficult.
In general, healthcare provides refer to head injuries as being either “open” or “closed.” The latter type means that the skull wasn’t fractured or broken. In contrast, an “open” or penetrating head injury is one where some type of outside object first pierced the scalp and skull – and then the brain itself. Properly diagnosing a brain injury can be quite complicated since you can’t tell very much by simply looking at the patient. Actual bleeding is not the only sign of serious problems.
After noting some useful statistics on traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), this article looks at specific types of head injuries, frequent symptoms, common diagnostic tests and rehabilitative treatments.
What healthcare statistics reveal about traumatic brain injuries (TBIs)
Roughly 2.8 Americans suffer a traumatic brain injury each year. However, estimates vary since the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) say that total is closer to only about 1.5 million;
Approximately 282,000 patients with new TBIs require hospitalization;
About 50,000 of these individuals die due to their head injuries;
In 2012, about 329,290 children age 19 or younger required hospitalization for a TBI;
For children between infancy and age 14, more than half of their traumatic brain injuries are caused by falls;
Close to 79% of TBIs suffered by adults age 65 and older are due to falls;
Hospitalization rates run highest for TBI patients age 75 and older.
The socio-economic costs our country pays due to these injuries is quite high, especially since most seriously injured TBI patients must drop out of the full-time workforce – preventing them from contributing to their personal and family living expenses.
A hematoma. This refers to the clotting of blood outside the blood vessels. These can be especially serious if they occur within the brain itself. When too much pressure builds up inside an injured person’s head, consciousness can be lost;
A brain hemorrhage. If it’s a subarachnoid hemorrhage, the injured party may experience both headaches and vomiting. This type of bleeding occurs between the brain and the tissues covering it;
A concussion. Football players and car accident victims often suffer these after receiving severe blows to the head – causing the brain to forcefully hit the walls of the skull;
Skull fractures. Fortunately, the skull doesn’t contain any bone marrow like most of the body’s bones — making it much stronger and more difficult to break. However, if your head sustains enough force during an impact, the skull can fracture – causing internal brain injuries to become much more severe;
Brain swelling or edema. While some swelling outside the brain is common with certain head injuries, it can be far more serious if this occurs within the brain itself. Since the skull cannot expand or stretch to accommodate all the swelling, brain shunts may be required;
A diffuse axonal injury. Although this type of injury doesn’t cause any bleeding, it still can cause serious damage to the patient’s brain cells – greatly impairing their ability to function;
Penetrating injury. While employed on a construction site, a worker can fall on a sharp object that may pierce his brain. Likewise, a person in a serious vehicle accident may have her brain penetrated by a large object that was flying around inside the car right when it was hit. Car parts can also pierce the skull.
These types of head and brain injuries can be quite severe – causing serious bleeding, blood clots and other damage that can partially prevent oxygen supplies from reaching critical parts of the brain. Removing an object from the brain requires extreme surgical precision since too much bleeding during an operation can further injure a patient.
Important symptoms to watch for regarding less serious brain or head injuries
A lightheaded feeling
A sensation that the person is almost spinning while standing still
A sudden “ringing” in the ears
A type of mild confusion or disorientation
While these symptoms usually occur mainly with less traumatic head injuries, they should still be taken seriously – especially if they’re present along with the following, more pronounced symptoms.
Symptoms common for those suffering from very serious or severe brain injuries
The loss of consciousness
A very pronounced sense of disorientation or confusion
Coordination and balance problems
A bad headache that keeps getting worse
Loss of muscle control
Odd and erratic eye movements
Loss of memory
The loss of clear fluid from either the nose or ear
When one or more of these latter symptoms appear, always call an ambulance — or drive the brain injury victim to a nearby hospital ER as quickly as possible.
Diagnostic tests often used to determine the nature of a person’s head or brain injury
The Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS). This 15-point test helps doctors determine the injured person’s current mental status. The higher the score received, the less serious the injury (in most instances). When these tests are going to be conducted, it’s best if someone who witnessed the accident accompanies the injured party to the hospital since someone needs to describe how the accident occurred – to help doctors understand the exact nature of the injury. Physicians can then do a better job of choosing the best treatment after all test results have been examined;
CT Scans. When a computed tomography test is being run, the patient lies down on a scanning bed that moves slowly through a gantry while an x-ray tube is rotated around the patient – constantly shooting small beams of x-rays throughout the body;
MRI Scans. These scans (also called “nuclear magnetic resonance imaging” tests) are usually employed after CT results have been completed and additional information is needed. Doctors usually wait to run an MRI until the patient’s condition has stabilized. An MRI conducted using a strong magnetic field and radio waves can help doctors treating ailments like a sports injury – by letting them peer inside joints, ligaments, cartilage, muscles and tendons. MRIs are also quite useful in helping medical personnel gain a more thorough understanding of the lingering effects of a possible stroke, tumor, aneurysm or other serious condition.
While these are not the only major tests that can be run, they do provide greater insight into all the blood lab results and what’s learned through a complete physical exam.
Types of TBI rehabilitative treatments
Although some mild head injuries may only require a significant reduction in activities based on doctor’s orders, more serious brain injuries may require a patient to undergo one or more of the treatments set forth below (prior to beginning other rehabilitative care treatments).
Surgery following initial ER treatment. Many traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients need clotted blood removed from their brains, repairs made to their skull fractures – and other surgical measures performed to relieve excess pressure that’s built up in the brain due to swelling tissues. As noted earlier in this article, brain shunts may need to be implanted to allow excess fluid to be drained;
Various medications. Many patients may need anticoagulants to prevent the formation of blood clots, while others may require anticonvulsants to prevent seizures. Survivors of head and brain injuries also often need antidepressant and anxiety medications – since some medical conditions cause these problems that cannot always be alleviated by talking therapy;
Physical therapies for all other needs. Many TBI patients require rehabilitative care that will teach them to once again handle their own daily dressing, grooming and personal hygiene (to the extent possible). Patients can also be provided with highly useful exercises that can help them regain better muscle strength for handling daily activities and enjoying greater general mobility;
Occupational therapy. If brain-injured patients are interested in returning to work, they can often obtain help relearning past job skills or acquiring new ones through vocational therapy and counseling;
Psychological therapy or counseling. While one-on-one help can be useful, support groups can also provide injured people with added hope and motivation as they try to keep moving forward in their lives. Cognitive therapies may also be required since memory and learning functions are often greatly impaired due to brain injuries.
While the list provided above is not intended to be exhaustive, it should provide a broad overview of the different types of rehabilitative treatments that many TBI patients can obtain while trying to regain complete or maximum mobility for their personal condition.
If you or a loved one has suffered a severe head injury due to a fall, a car accident or other event caused by someone else’s negligence, you should contact your New York City traumatic brain injury lawyer right away. One of our personal injury law firm attorneys will meet with you in person and ask about all the facts of your case. If we believe we can present a strong case on your behalf, we’ll carefully investigate all the events leading up to your accident. We’ll then fight aggressively to obtain the maximum level of compensation available for all your lost earnings, medical expenses and other accident-related losses.