Head and brain injuries can be particularly dangerous and can result in severe short or long-term consequences. In more severe cases, these injuries can be life-changing. Anyone who has sustained a brain injury will in all likelihood require extensive medical treatment in addition to ongoing and sometimes permanent care and support.
Common Causes of Head Injuries
Road Accidents And Collisions
Road accidents and collisions involving any type of vehicle are one of the most common causes of head injuries. Cyclists and motorbike riders are most at risk for head injuries in road accidents. Pedestrians too are at high risk for accident-related head injuries.
Head and brain injuries on the sports field are common in sportspersons who participate in extreme, fast-paced or high-impact sports such as football, boxing, skateboarding, baseball, hockey, and rugby.
Construction or building site workers who work at great heights are at high risk for brain injuries.
However, brain injuries are not only caused by falls from great heights, they can also be caused by falling down steps, slipping in the bath, falling out of bed or falling from a ladder. Younger children and older adults are most susceptible to brain injuries from falls.
Violence And Domestic Abuse
An alarmingly high number of brain injuries are a result of an act of violence inside or outside the home. Domestic violence against a child or spouse can result in brain injuries inside the home. Physical assaults are often the cause of brain injury outside the home.
One of the biggest challenges with head injuries is that even if there are no external signs of injury, there is still the possibility that there may be some injury to the brain. Making the diagnosis even more complicated is the fact that symptoms of brain injury may manifest anytime within a few hours to several days following a head injury.
Symptoms Of Brain Injuries
The absence of any visible injuries to the head does not rule out the possibility of a brain injury. There are several physical, cognitive and sensory symptoms that could indicate that the victim of an accident or an act of violence may be suffering brain injuries.
Brain injury symptoms may include one or more of the following:
- Feeling disoriented or confused;
- Loss of consciousness, which may last from a few seconds to much longer;
- Nausea or vomiting;
- Dizziness or loss of balance;
- Loss of coordination;
- Persistent headache;
- Slurred speech;
- Convulsions or seizures;
- Extreme mood swings or mood changes;
- Numbness or weakness in fingers or toes;
- Drastic change in sleep patterns;
- Unusually aggressive or agitated behaviour;
- Difficulty waking up from sleep;
- Sudden sensitivity to sound or light;
- Dilated pupils in one or both eyes;
- Blurred vision;
- Trouble concentrating or staying focused;
- Feeling anxious or depressed;
- Ringing in the ears.
If you or a loved one experiences any of these symptoms following any injury to the head, however insignificant it may seem at the time, it is vital to consult with a doctor as quickly as possible. As with any other medical condition, time is of the essence. The sooner you can get medical advice and treatment, the higher the chances of the treatment being successful. With a head injury in particular, you cannot be too careful.
Diagnosing Brain Injuries
To confirm whether there is any brain injury and to assess the severity of the injury, the doctor will first want to know how the injury occurred and what were the immediate symptoms following the accident. Did the patient lose consciousness and for how long? What was the force of the impact? Was it a slip and fall injury, a vehicle collision or a violent blow to the head? Were there any other changes in coordination, speech or alertness following the injury? Did the patient lose consciousness for any period of time?
The answers to these questions will give the doctor some indication as to the type and severity of injuries. In addition, they will also carry out various imaging tests that allow them to examine the brain. CT or Computerised tomography scans and MRI or magnetic resonance imaging scans are the two most commonly used imaging tests to confirm brain damage.
An intracranial pressure monitor may also be used to monitor pressure inside the skull as increased pressure caused by tissue swelling can cause additional damage to the brain.
Treating Brain Injuries
Mild brain injuries generally do not require any extensive treatment although the doctor will continue to monitor the patient closely to see if any other symptoms develop.
Severe brain injuries however require extensive immediate treatment followed by ongoing monitoring and rehabilitation. The exact therapy recommended will depend on which functions have been impaired by the brain injury. The ultimate goal of rehabilitation is to help the patient become as independent as possible. For some brain injury patients, this may involve relearning basic motor skills such as standing, walking, eating, and talking. For others, it may mean helping with coordination, balance or memory.
Several medical specialists may be involved in this rehabilitation process, depending on the areas that need to be addressed. An individual recovering from brain injury may need one or more of these rehabilitation specialists for a complete recovery – physical therapist, occupational therapist, recreational therapist, speech and language specialist, rehabilitation nurse or vocational counsellor.
How A Brain Injury Can Affect Quality Of Life
Brain injuries can have a devastating impact on the quality of life. The exact effects may vary depending on the part of the brain that has been injured and the extent of the damage. Some brain injuries may impair motor function while others may impair cognitive or emotional function. In the case of severe brain damage, all three functions may be impaired. While each of these impairments may affect an individual’s quality of life differently, in one way or another they all hamper a person’s ability to perform everyday tasks independently.