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Understanding a traumatic brain injury

Many Virginia residents are well-aware of the risks posed by a traumatic brain injury (TBI), as seen in increased education efforts and improved equipment and policies in sporting events. Unfortunately, many people still do not understand the facts about traumatic brain injuries. Knowing how and when a TBI can occur and what can be done in response is one of the best ways to reduce the number of people who suffer long-term damage after a head trauma.

The definition of a TBI is an injury suffered by a person when he or she experiences trauma that causes damage to the brain. The two ways of suffering a TBI are a violent impact to the head or a direct piercing of the brain tissue by an outside object. The symptoms experienced by someone suffering a trauma depend on the force of the impact and the severity of the injury. In many cases, a person will not lose consciousness despite having sustained a mild TBI. At the lowest level, symptoms may include headache, dizziness, blurred vision, confusion, ringing in the ears, fatigue, mood or behavior changes, difficulty with concentration or memory, and/or a bad taste in the mouth. As the severity of the TBI increases, the person may experience a headache that worsens over time, vomiting, seizures or convulsions, dilated pupils, the inability to wake up, loss of coordination, slurred speech, and/or weakness or numbness in the arms, legs, fingers and toes.

The best response to a TBI of any level is to receive treatment as soon as possible. Prompt medical treatment will give medical professionals the chance to stabilize the patient by ensuring that the brain continues or resumes receiving oxygen, maintaining proper blood flow throughout the body and preventing dangerous increases or drops in blood pressure. These efforts at stabilization help to prevent further brain damage because the initial damage suffered by the trauma is often irreversible. Once a patient has been stabilized, he or she may require some degree of rehabilitation or therapy focused on improving areas or skills that were affected by the initial brain damage.

Depending on the severity of the brain trauma, a patient may also require surgery to control bleeding or repair damage caused by bleeding or bruising in the brain. Potential risks of TBI include permanent disabilities that may affect cognitive functioning, communication, mental health or even physical skills. In especially serious cases, a TBI may result in a coma or even death.

Source: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, "NINDS Traumatic Brain Injury Information Page," last accessed Sept. 6, 2014

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