Traumatic Brain Injuries

Traumatic brain injuries, or TBIs, occur when the brain undergoes damages by an external force or trauma. Depending on the amount of damage the brain sustains, symptoms of a traumatic brain injury can range from mild or moderate to severe. Types of traumatic brain injuries include concussions, contusions, coup-contrecoup injuries, diffuse axonal injuries, shaken baby syndrome and injuries due to penetration.

Common Brain Injuries: Concussions and Contusions

Concussions are the most common form of brain injuries. They occur when the head undergoes a direct hit or severe whiplash and shaking. After experiencing a concussion, a person may lose consciousness or become dazed and disoriented. A person suffering from a brain injuries such as a concussion is also at an increased risk for potentially life-threatening blood clots. Unfortunately, CAT scans are not always able to detect concussions.

Early signs of a concussion include: headache, vertigo, loss of awareness, nausea and vomiting. Some of the long lasting effects may involve persistent headaches, memory impairment, lightheadedness, an inability to concentrate, fatigue, irritability, changes in mood, vision problems, and difficulties while doing math or trying to find words. It can take anywhere from a few months to a few years for a concussion to fully heal.

Similar to a concussion, brain injuries known as contusions can result from direct impact to a person’s head; however, contusions tend to be more serious as they involve a bruise to the brain, which means there is brain injury and bleeding. Similar to bruises on other areas of the body, this brain injury cases multiple small hemorrhages that result in the leaking of small blood vessels into brain tissue. If the contusion is large enough, surgery may be required to remove it.

Signs of a contusion depend on the severity of the brain injury sustained, along with the area of the brain that was hurt. Symptoms are similar to those experienced with concussions, in addition to difficulties with coordination, movement, vision, speech and hearing.

Coup-Contrecoup Brain Injury

A coup-contrecoup brain injury involves not only one, but two contusions. A coup injury is a contusion that occurs on the side of the brain at the point of impact, while a countrecoup injury occurs on the direct opposite side of the brain. This traumatic brain injury most often occurs when the head collides with an object at rest. The force of impact is so great that, along with causing a contusion at the impact site, the brain is slammed into the opposite side of the skull, resulting in a second contusion.

Diffuse Axonal Brain Injury and Shaken Baby Syndrome

Diffuse axonal brain injuries can occur any time the head undergoes intense shaking, as is the case with shaken baby syndrome, or strong rotational forces, such as those resulting from a car accident. Injury results because the movement of the brain lags behind that of the skull, resulting in the shearing of nerve fibers, or axons, all over the brain. This tearing upsets communication within the brain, along with its chemical processes. The functional impairments resulting from such brain injuries depend on where tearing occurred. Damaged to the brain is more widespread with this kind of injury. Diffuse axonal injuries are serious, as they can cause permanent brain damage, coma or even death. For those patients who end up in a coma, over 90 percent of them never regain consciousness.

In the cases of shaken baby syndrome, a baby is shaken so violently that it causes the blood vessels between the skull and brain to rupture. The resulting influx of blood causes the brain to swell, damaging brain cells. The effects of brain injuries caused by shaken baby syndrome include seizures, lifelong disability, comas and death.

Brain Injury due to Penetration

Penetrating brain injuries occur whenever impact from a bullet or sharp object forces skin, hair, bone and fragments of the object to enter the brain. If the object happens to penetrate the skull, pass through the brain and come out the other side, serious injury can occur. Not only does the brain suffer from the penetration of the object itself, but also from the added tearing, stretching and rupturing of brain tissue. Gunshot wounds are the most common form of penetrating injuries.