What is Brain Injury?
Brain injury is when the brain becomes damaged due to a specific event or illness, which can affect the way it functions.
There are various types of brain injury: acquired brain injury (ABI), congenital (injury occurring before birth) and hypoxic (injury due to lack of oxygen).
The most common type is an acquired brain injury, referring to any injury which took place after birth. This type can be classified as traumatic or non-traumatic. (1)
The brain is a vital organ for the body, it is the control center for all functions, movements, thoughts and feelings. Without the brain, the body wouldn’t know how to act.
The brain is divided into right and left side, whereby the right side controls the left side of the body, and vice versa. Each side has its own traits and characteristics. (2)
For example: the left side is the logical, precise and organized side, whereas the right is creative, imaginative and empathetic.
Unfortunately, when the brain sustains an injury, it can sometimes change everything we take for granted about life in a matter of minutes.
Symptoms of a brain injury depend on which part is damaged. It can also be mild or severe. Severe symptoms can alter the person’s ability to move or speak. (3, 4)
Signs which should never be ignored, especially in young children, are: nausea and vomiting, lethargy and tiredness, or a persistent headache which appears to increase in intensity. (5)
The different parts of the brain are called lobes; each lobe controls a piece of the body and mind.
Below is a general explanation of the different effects and symptoms an injury has on the various parts of the brain.
The frontal lobe is the part of the brain which controls awareness, concentration, self-consciousness, language skills and personality traits. (6)
If an injury is sustained to this area it can cause symptoms such as mood changes. The person may be unable to control emotions or impulses. Changes in behavior can become obvious and the person might not remember things easily. Speech may also be affected.
In severe cases, such an injury can cause agitation and restlessness. (7)
The temporal lobe is located under the frontal lobe and is the region which controls memory, ability to understand language, hearing and organization. (8)
Injuries to this part may affect the person’s communication skills as well as memory. Symptoms can show as slurred speech or difficulty in expressing themselves.
This part of the brain is vital for survival because it’s the part which controls the body’s involuntary functions: breathing, heartbeat and consciousness. (9)
If this region sustains an injury it can result in loss of consciousness which can be short term, or long term (coma) in severe cases. Other symptoms can include: seizures or convulsions (sudden movements of limbs or other body parts), insomnia or difficulty waking up from sleep. (10)
The parietal lobe is the area which regulates our senses: sight, smell, touch, sound and taste. (11)
Injuries can cause symptoms such as a change in taste, sensitivity to sounds and bright lights, or a sensation of “seeing stars” might occur, followed by confusion.
The dark center of the eyes might become enlarged; this can occur in one or both eyes. (12)
Cerebellum is the place where balance, skilled motor activity and visual perception takes place.
Symptoms of an injury may involve: loss of balance, disordered coordination, numbness and tingling in the limbs or muscle weakness. (13)
This section of the brain is located at the back of the skull and controls sight.
An injury to this part can cause symptoms such as blurred vision or trouble identifying shapes and objects and their sizes, which can also lead to confusion. (14)
When a person has sustained a brain injury, doctors will typically start out by classifying it as mild, moderate or severe, dependent on the consciousness of the person.
Doctors will rate the level of consciousness using a system called “Glasgow coma scale” (GCS). This calculates the status of the nervous system in order to implement the right treatment. (15, 16)
Class #1 (Mild)
The patient experiences loss of consciousness of up to 30 minutes.
They are deemed in a state of confusion, with slowed thinking or disorientation, lasting from a brief moment up to 24 hours.
They could also have difficulty recalling what happened (post-traumatic amnesia) for up to a day after the event.
The GCS score will be between 13 to 15.
Class #2 (Moderate)
Loss of consciousness lasting between 30 minutes and 24 hours.
State of confusion is continuous. Post-traumatic amnesia can last anywhere from one to seven days.
The patient will have a score of nine to 12 on the GCS.
Class #3 (Severe)
The patient is likely to experience continuous vomiting and nausea, weakness in the limbs, slurred speech and trouble thinking straight.
The patient has also sustained severe damage to the brain and post-traumatic amnesia can last for more than seven days.
The GCS score is now less than nine, which means the person has experienced loss of consciousness for more than 24 hours, and may even still be in a comatose state.
Treatment of brain injury is different for every person; it depends on which type, where the injury occurred and its severity.
For many people who sustain a mild brain injury, recovery is typically fast. However, those who suffer a severe injury are likely to remain in hospital for a lengthier period of time. (17)
Emergency Room (ER)
Treatment will generally start in the ER. (18)
Doctors and nurses will act fast in order to minimize further damage to the brain. However, not much can be done to reverse the primary damage.
Intensive Care Unit (ICU)
Those who have sustained moderate to severe injuries will most likely be admitted to the intensive care unit.
The patient will receive treatment to stabilize the condition and prevent further damage. With brain injuries, many people are unconscious when they are first admitted. This means they will require life support procedures, which can include:
A machine to assist with breathing (ventilator), fluids and medicines administered through an IV (intravenous) in a vein, plus different machines which help the doctors keep track of the heartbeat, blood pressure and brain activity.
When the patient is stable, he/she will be moved to a step-down unit (SDU), where treatment will prepare the patient to be transferred to a general medical ward.
Following a brain injury, a person is likely to need rehabilitation treatment.
This involves ways to retrain the brain and body in order to adapt to the changes brought on by the injury. For some it may mean speech therapy, for others it could be learning how to walk again.
The main goal is to assist the patient back to “normal” daily life and activities, or as close to it as possible. (19)
Medicines are used as a way to minimize symptoms, for example, pain relief, diminish fear, anxiety or nervousness, reduce muscle cramps and spasms and decrease psychotic symptoms, such as hostility or sleep disorders. (20)
What is brain injury? Brain injury is when damage is sustained to the brain due to a specific event.
What are the signs of brain injury? Signs can be mild to severe and may include: loss of consciousness, prolonged headaches, nausea, vomiting, confusion, seizures, memory loss, weakness or tingling in the limbs, blurred vision and trouble speaking.
How do you develop brain injury? There are many ways to sustain a brain injury; for example, It can be from a fall (traumatic), an illness (non-traumatic), lack of oxygen or even, in unborn babies, from inside the mother’s womb.
How are you diagnosed for brain injury? Many people are unconscious when they’re first taken to hospital, indicating a severe injury. Doctors will usually begin with a CT scan and start treatment as fast as possible. In cases of mild or moderate symptoms, doctors will start out by taking x-rays of the skull and neck to check for broken bones. (21)
What is the best treatment for brain injury? It depends on the severity of the injury. Some people can manage well with medicines, other people will need intensive care for longer periods, followed by rehabilitation.
What are the long term complications of brain injury? If the injury was severe it could cause permanent damage, which may include: memory loss, difficulty reasoning, change in personality, aggression. More severe complications can be coma or an unresponsive state where only certain factors, such as pain, can generate a response. (22)
Is brain injury considered a disability? Yes, in severe cases it can damage the functions of the body and either cause a mental or physical disability, sometimes even both. (23)
Is there any cure for brain injury? It depends on the severity. In mild cases, people may not need extensive treatment to help recover, but in severe cases there’s a chance it is irreversible.
Is brain injury life threatening? Yes, severe brain injuries can be life threatening.
A brain injury is when a certain event, such as an accident or illness, causes damage to the brain.
Sometimes this can be mild, where the person’s treatment is reasonably straightforward and he/she is able to return to normal life.
However, a brain injury also has the ability to change existence in a matter of minutes. It can be a frightening event, followed by loss of memory and sensations where, for many, a complete lifestyle overhaul is required.
Fortunately, there are rehabilitation programs and therapies available for those in need.