Study Uncovers Potential Cause of Neurological Changes After Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
Traumatic brain injuries are severe, potentially life-threatening head injuries that occur after a blow to the head. Though harder blows typically cause more problems, you don’t have to be hit particularly hard to experience a traumatic brain injury (TBI). And for many TBI sufferers, symptoms don’t begin until weeks or even months after the initial impact. Sometimes referred to as acquired brain injuries (ABI), particularly in the Australian press, these head injuries pose a major public health threat, with 1.6 million Australians affected.
Researchers have long debated how to most effectively treat these injuries, which give rise to cognitive changes, psychological difficulties, and deteriorating health. A new study published in Neurotherapeutics, though, offers new insight into the anatomy and trajectory of TBI.
New TBI Research
The researchers, Alan Faden, MD, a neurologist and anesthesiology professor, and David Loane, PhD, an anesthesiology professor, present a new model of TBI. Inflammation has previously been linked to a host of health problems, ranging from depression to rheumatoid arthritis. And now, with this new paper, researchers have linked TBI to inflammation as well.
The researchers point to recent brain imaging studies, which indicate that a moderate head injury can cause persistent brain inflammation. This ongoing inflammation can persist for years, which may help explain why the symptoms of a TBI tend to persist long after the head injury appears to have healed.
Unfortunately, though, much research into brain injuries has focused on chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a condition common among American football players who suffer a brain injury. This dogged focus, the researchers say, may have diverted attention away from other TBI research, as well as potential treatments. There’s good news, though. Faden and Loane argue that the inflammation that so often co-occurs with a brain injury could be treatable. Exercise programs, as well as some experimental drugs, may block brain inflammation. Among patients seeking treatment for the first time, aggressively advocating for these treatments could increase the odds of a substantive long-term recovery.
Symptoms of Brain Injuries
Because the symptoms of a brain injury can linger for years after the initial injury, it’s easy for brain injuries to be misdiagnosed as depression, behavioural problems, or even a degenerative neurological condition. If you or someone you love have experienced a brain injury, it’s critically important to tell your medical providers about this injury, even if it happened a long time ago. Know the symptoms of TBI, since doing so may save your life. Common symptoms include:
Confusion, lightheadedness, or headache
Ringing sensations in your ears
Strange taste in your mouth
Exhaustion or suddenly falling asleep. You may also suffer a generalised loss of energy or a change in your sleeping habits.
Sensitivity to sound or light
Changes in your behaviour or mood
Difficulty concentrating, remembering things, or focusing
Loss of consciousness; this can last only a few seconds with a mild TBI, or for several minutes or even hours with a more severe injury.
Vomiting or nausea immediately after the injury
Numbness in the extremities
A worsening headache
Seizures or convulsions
Restlessness or agitation
Difficulty with coordinating your movements
Enlargement of one or both pupils, or pupils of different sizes
What to Do After a Blow to the Head
If you suffer a blow to the head, it doesn’t matter if you feel fine; this is a serious, life-threatening medical emergency that warrants immediate medical intervention. An immediate trip to the hospital is necessary if the wound is open or if you lose consciousness; otherwise, simply seek medical care within an hour or two.
Knowing proper first aid after a head injury can save your life or the life of another person. After a head injury, keep these life-saving tips in mind:
Do not apply direct pressure to a head wound that is bleeding, particularly if you suspect a broken skull. Instead, stop bleeding by putting a clean cloth directly onto the wound.
Stabilise the person’s head or neck, but do not try to move the head or ask the person to move, particularly if he or she has lost consciousness.
If the person is unconscious and vomiting, roll the person onto his or her side. Because movement can be dangerous, though, ensure you move the body as one unit, rather than moving the head and then the body.
Apply ice packs to any parts of the head or neck that are swollen.
Do not attempt to crack or pop the neck or head back into place, even if you think the injury is minor.
After receiving medical care, continue to monitor symptoms. Go to hospital immediately if you: develop a stiff neck or severe headache, notice that your pupils have become different sizes, lose consciousness for even a brief second, begin vomiting, or are unable to move any part of your body.
An acquired brain injury has the power to change your life, affect your relationship, and even permanently alter your personality. Proper medical treatment, though, can make a difference. And if you’re struggling to adjust to life with an ABI, therapy can help you make sense of your challenges and implement new coping skills to move beyond the injury.