March is Brain Injury Awareness Month, spotlighting the ubiquity of acquired brain injuries (ABIs), especially among athletes. An ABI, which is a brain injury that's not hereditary, congenial, degenerative, or caused by birth trauma, has many potential symptoms and potential injury mechanisms. Read on to learn about the symptoms of brain injuries and how to prevent them.
If you follow sports, you've likely seen discussion of brain injuries and the long-term effects of concussions. This doesn't just happen to pro athletes, but can happen even in youth sports. And it's also not just athletes who have suffered from ABIs:
Over 3.5 million adults and children are estimated to sustain an ABI every year.
Every 9 seconds, someone in the U.S. suffers a brain injury.
1 in 60, or at least 5.3 million, Americans lives with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) related disability.
2.5 million Americans sustain a TBI each year.
You may have noticed we've used two different terms for brain injuries: acquired (ABIs) and traumatic (TBIs). Traumatic brain injuries are a subset of ABIs, and they're defined as any alteration in brain function caused by an external force. An impact must occur to cause a TBI, while other acquired brain injuries can occur due to a variety of medical or physical issues.
Examples of ABIs include:
- Seizure disorder.
Oxygen deprivation from medical causes: heart attack.
Oxygen deprivation from external causes: nearly drowning or suffocating.
- Toxic exposure.
- Substance abuse or overdose.
Infectious disease that affects the brain: meningitis.
- Lightning strike or electric shock.
Examples of TBIs include:
- Sports injuries.
- Motor vehicle accidents.
- Assaults or strikes.
No two brain injuries are the same. The brain is the most complex organ in the human body, and the signs of a brain injury are wide-reaching. In many cases they won't appear or become noticeable for days or even weeks after an impact. Knowing what to look for can be crucial to getting someone the help they need. These may include:
- Body numbness or tingling.
- Coma or semi-comatose state: not alert, unable to respond to others.
- Difficulty speaking or swallowing.
- Difficulty thinking: memory problems, slow thought processing, poor judgment, poor attention span, difficulty "thinking straight."
- Inappropriate emotional responses: irritability, frustrated easily, inappropriate crying or laughing.
- Loss of bowel control.
- Loss of consciousness.
- Paralysis or difficulty moving.
- Poor coordination or difficulty with balance.
- Respiratory problems.
- Slow breathing rate combined with an increase in blood pressure.
- Slow pulse.
- Spinal fluid leakage: a thin, clear fluid coming out the ears or nose
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears) or difficulty hearing.
- Vision problems: blindness, blurred or double vision, sensitivity to light, loss of eye movement.
Following an acquired brain injury, it's difficult to say if brain function will fully recover. That's why it's important to make decisions that will reduce your chances of suffering a brain injury.
Practice Car Safety: Wear a seatbelt, don't text or use your phone while driving, don't drive under the influence. Young children should use a proper safety seat or booster.
Practice Sports Safety: Wear a helmet during contact or vehicle-based sports (biking, skateboarding, skiing). This includes motor vehicles like snowmobiles and ATVs, as well as horse riding.
Fall Prevention: Clear pathways at home, provide adequate lighting, be aware of your surroundings, and always use handrails and proper paths.
Avoid Substance Abuse: Intoxication is a major contributor to vehicle accidents and falls that can cause a TBI, and overdoses can lead to an ABI.
Treatment and Recovery
Every brain injury is different, and so every person's treatment and recovery plan will be different, impacted by the severity of the injury and the symptoms experienced. Some patients will be able to continue living at home or even independently, some may need supervision or home care, and some may need to reside in an assisted living facility. Components of treatment may include:
Physical Therapy: helps restore quality of movement, including strength and balance.
Occupational Therapy: helps identify and improve patient's daily living skills, as well as adapt home and work environments to their needs.
Neuropsychology: helps identify and address cognitive changes, such as changes in thinking and behavior.
Be sure to consult with your doctor or a qualified health care professional before taking any medication, supplements, or beginning health regimens.