Anyone Can Suffer a Brain Injury at any Time

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We’ve grown accustomed to seeing sports stars suffer concussions live on TV – from Olympic snowboarders crashing into the ice when an airborne gymnastic stunt goes awry to NFL quarterbacks sacked by a few hundred pounds of opposing linemen. But did you know that 2.4 million people, including 475,000 children, sustain a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in the U.S. each year? And that 5.3 million people in the U.S. live with life-long disabilities as a result of these injuries?

During Brain Injury Awareness Month in March, trauma experts at Parkland Health & Hospital System want to help inform the public about risks, prevention and management of TBIs. According to Alex Eastman, MD, Interim Trauma Medical Director at Parkland, “Anyone can suffer a brain injury anytime, anywhere. And just as no two people are identical, no two brain injuries are exactly alike. A TBI is a blow or bump to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts normal brain function. It can be mild or life-threatening and can cause no side effects or result in long-term or permanent disability.”

TBIs are caused by falls (35 percent), car crashes (17 percent), workplace accidents (16 percent), assaults (10 percent) and other causes including sports-related injuries (21 percent). About 75 percent of TBIs in the U.S. each year are concussions or other forms of mild traumatic brain injuries. But TBI is a contributing factor in one-third of all injury-related deaths in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“We see a lot of serious brain injuries in the Trauma Center at Parkland every year and many of them are, sadly, preventable. People in motor vehicle or bike accidents are frequent victims of brain injury along with people who fall on ice or in their homes. But a significant number of sports-related TBIs occur in people of all ages. Parents should know what to look for if their kids are participating in contact sports like football or activities like gymnastics or skate-boarding,” Dr. Eastman said.

Even though concussions may be described as a “mild” brain injury by health care providers, their effects can be serious. “Most people with a concussion recover quickly and completely,” Dr. Eastman noted, “but for some, symptoms can last for days, weeks or even longer.”

Symptoms of concussion include difficulty thinking, remembering or concentrating; physical problems including headache, blurry or fuzzy vision, nausea or vomiting (early on), dizziness, balance problems or lack of energy; emotional reactions such as irritability, sadness, nervousness or anxiety; and sleep disturbances ranging from sleeping more or less than usual to having trouble falling asleep.

“These kinds of symptoms can be easily missed. A person with a concussion can look well even though they may be acting or feeling differently,” Dr. Eastman said.

Young children (infant to 4 years), adolescents (15 to 19 years) and adults 65 and older are most likely to sustain a TBI, according to the CDC. In every age group, males are more likely to have TBI than females.

One of the danger signs in adults that should alert the patient to seek immediate attention is a headache that gets worse and does not go away. “Sometimes, a more severe problem, like a blood clot on the brain, can mimic the signs of a concussion. Only specialized imaging can show us the difference,” Dr. Eastman said.

Other warning signs that the person should go to an Emergency Room right away: slurred speech, weakness, numbness or poor coordination, repeated vomiting or nausea, severe drowsiness or loss of consciousness, convulsions or seizures, one pupil dilated larger than the other, confusion or agitation or other unusual behavior.

“Children who have had a bump, blow or jolt to the head can also exhibit these symptoms and should be taken to an ER right away,” Dr. Eastman advised. “Parents should also watch for signs like lack of appetite, failure to nurse or eat and inconsolable crying.”

Severe TBIs can have devastating effects on an individual and their family. Two types of severe TBI are closed injuries, caused by movement of the brain in the skull, or penetrating injuries caused by a foreign object entering the skull, such as a bullet or sharp object. As a trauma surgeon in one of the nation’s leading Level I Trauma Centers, Dr. Eastman sees these injuries on a regular basis.

“We are trained to save lives,” he said. “Rapid assessment and treatment is critical when a severe brain injury occurs. At Parkland, we are on the cutting-edge of trauma care. But we would rather see these types of injuries prevented.”

For more information about trauma services at Parkland, please visit http://www.parklandhospital.com/medical_services/trauma_surgery/trauma_facts_and_figures.html

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