Breaking Down Traumatic Brain Injuries

Traumatic brain injuries are a major cause of disability in the United States. They’re also linked to about 30 percent of all injury-related deaths. Since TBIs come in various forms, you should know what they are and how they impact your health.

There are two classifications for TBIs. The first is called a penetrating or open head injury. This is when an object punctures the skull and enters the brain. The second is a closed head injury, which is caused by blunt force but does not penetrate the skull. Beyond these two, TBIs are further categorized by type, ranging from mild to severe.

Types of Traumatic Brain Injuries

Concussion – A concussion is the most common type of TBI. Prevalent in contact sports, it occurs when the brain is shaken or slams against the skull wall. This can stem from a bump, direct hit, or whiplash.

Edema (Brain Swelling) – A cerebral edema occurs when fluid develops in the brain. It can be caused by an injury, infection, stroke, or certain medications. An edema is a life-threatening condition that can reduce oxygen to the brain and increase pressure inside the skull.

Hematoma – A hematoma is a pool or collection of blood stemming from  ruptured vessels. A subdural hematoma is characterized by clotting outside the brain. Intracranial hematomas occur inside the brain, while an epidural hematoma is bleeding between the skull and the brain’s protective layer (the dura mater). All three can be caused by sudden impact due to a fall or blow to the head.

Hemorrhage – A hemorrhage is any bleeding in or around the brain tissue. The former is called intracranial, while the latter is a subarachnoid. Aside from head trauma, hemorrhages often stem from aneurysms, tumors, blood disorders, tangled or burst vessels.

Fracture – A skull fracture is a break in the cranial bone typically due to blunt force trauma. Depending on the severity, it can lead to swelling or a brain bleed. There are four types of skull fractures:

  • A linear fracture appears in a single line and doesn’t move the bone
  • A depressed fracture creates an indentation, curving inward
  • A diastatic fracture appears near the suture lines around the skull.
  • A basilar fracture is located at the base of the skull affecting the eyes, ears, nose, and neck.

Diffuse Axonal Injury – A diffuse axonal injury occurs when connecting nerve fibers (axons) are torn due to a violent shift or sudden rotation inside the skull. It can be caused by a car crash, fall, or shaken baby syndrome in infants.

Contusions/Coup-contrecoup – Contusions and coup-contrecoup injuries are often linked. A contusion is a bruise at the site of impact while a coup-contrecoup is damage at the site of impact as well as the opposite side of the injury. It occurs when the head collides with a moving or stationary object.

Treatment Options

Mild TBIs can be treated using noninvasive procedures. A doctor may prescribe medication to combat symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. They may also restrict activities and ask you to lower your caffeine intake to aid recovery.

Therapy is another viable treatment to reverse mental or physical damage. Examples include:

  • Physical Therapy: Focuses on building strength, while improving balance and coordination.
  • Occupational Therapy: Assists in re-learning basic skills such as bathing, getting dressed, cooking, cleaning, etc.
  • Speech Therapy: Reintroduces speaking techniques and how to use communication devices.
  • Cognitive Therapy: Helps those struggling with memory loss, perception, planning, and judgment.

Moderate or severe TBIs may require emergency surgery to repair damage. Blood clots, skull fractures, and open head injuries will need immediate attention. Without surgery, you increase the risk of permanent brain damage or even death.

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Photo credit: utah778

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