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Brain damage can occur as a result of chemical toxins, infections on the brain, and trauma to the brain. Most cases of brain damage are caused by traumatic injuries.
Brain damage is common and results in the deterioration of brain cells so that a person doesn�t function as to their normal potential. About 1.4 million people a year suffer from some sort of brain injury and a total of 5.3 million people every year are suffering from some of sort of aftereffect of having brain damage. About 50,000 people will die each year because of a brain injury, usually traumatic in nature. Brain damage causes a great amount of money per year�about $50 billion in medical costs and lost wages.
Brain damage comes in many types and in differing degrees of severity. For example, concussions represent head injuries and brain injuries but they are not severe and are often self-limiting. Traumatic brain injuries are usually caused by an external force such as is seen in a motor vehicle accident, a fall from a great height, child abuse or other violence, and sports injuries. The brain moves about inside the head, damaging the delicate cells.
One can get an acquired brain injury, such as when there is pressure on the brain from a brain tumor. It could also happen secondary to having a stroke or to having some other neurological illness. There is also brain damage that is secondary to a genetic condition or to birth trauma. This is known as congenital brain damage. Even though they can be brain damage, they are not usually traumatic.
In traumatic brain injury, the injury can be localized or generalized. If a person is shot, the damage to the brain is localized. If there is a closed head injury from a motor vehicle accident, the damage to the brain is more generalized. Generalized injuries tend to be more severe than localized injuries. Milder brain injuries tend to be more temporary while severe brain injuries are more permanent. Mild injuries often lead to things like headaches, memory difficulties, confusion, nausea, and balance problems. Serious injuries generally lead to coma and to lifelong problems with the neurological system. These injuries lead to permanent brain damage.
Brain damage happens when the actual brain cells are injured from trauma or when the brain is starved of oxygen for too long. Those most at risk for brain injuries are young men between the ages of 15 and 24. Brain damage also happens in young children and in older adults.
While causes of traumatic brain injury are car accidents, sports accidents, falls and violence, the causes of an acquired brain injury include poisoning, infection, toxicities, heart attacks, strangulations, drowning, stroke, aneurysms, brain tumors, use of illicit drugs, and certain neurological diseases.
Symptoms of Brain Damage
There are many different symptoms of brain damage and they fall into four primary categories: cognitive, physical, perceptual and behavioral/emotional.
The cognitive symptoms a person can have as a result of brain damage include difficulty in expressive thoughts, difficulty processing information, difficulty in understanding abstracts, short attention span, problems making decisions easily, and memory loss.
The physical symptoms a person can have as a result of having brain damage include: prolonged and persistent headaches, paralysis of varying body areas, having extreme fatigue, having seizures, exhibiting tremors, having a sensitivity to light, having slurred speech, and having sleeping problems. Loss of conscious can lead to a coma following a brain injury.
Perceptual changes that can occur as a result of brain damage include: spatial disorientation, change in sense of touch, vision and hearing, being unable to keep track of time, being unable to smell or taste, having poor balance and having a heightened sensitivity to pain.
Behavioral and emotional symptoms following a brain damaging event include being irritable and impatient, having a reduced tolerance for stress, being sluggish, having flattened emotional reactions, denying one�s disability, and having increased aggressiveness.
Treatment of Brain Damage and Brain Injuries
Anytime a person sustains a head injury, he or she should seek immediate medical attention, usually at an emergency room. Injuries that seem as simple as a concussion can represent a severe injury to the brain. Remember that not all brain injuries lead to long term sequelae. The major factor is the extent of the injury and the location of the injury. What is important is to have an accurate diagnosis and treatment to the disorder that exists.
At the emergency room, the patient should have a neurological examination to see what can be found out using regular doctors� tools and the doctor�s deduction. Then plain x-rays, or more commonly, CT scans are done to look for internal bleeding or pressure in the brain. A special neuropsychological test can be done to look for the finer areas of brain functioning. An IV is started and oxygen is given to follow the patient�s oxygenation. Blood pressure is maintained at a proper level by using medications and giving blood if necessary. About half of all severely brain injured patients will need to have some type of surgery in order to clamp off or repair a damaged blood vessel or to drain a blood clot off the brain.
After hospitalization for a period of time, the patient may need to have some type of rehabilitative therapy. This can include physical therapy, speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, and psychological therapy.
Because brain damage can be difficult to reverse, it is more important to focus on the prevention of brain injuries. Many are completely preventable if one pays attention to a few simple rules that can reduce one�s risk of getting brain injured. These include the following:
- Don�t shake small children or babies.
- Make sure windows cannot be opened far enough to let a child fall out.
- Use shock absorbing materials on children�s playgrounds.
- Always wear a helmet whenever playing sports or riding a bicycle or motorcycle.
- Use handrails on all stairways.
- Use a stepstool when reaching up into high shelves.
- Don�t have guns and if you do, keep them unloaded and locked up.
- Avoid the use of illicit drugs.
- Drink in moderation and if you drink, do not drive.
The author of the substantive medical writing on this website is Dr. Christine Traxler MD whose biography can be read here