Traumatic Brain Injury

What is traumatic brain injury?

Traumatic brain injury, also called acquired brain injury or simply head injury, occurs when a sudden trauma causes damage to the brain.

What are the causes?

Traumatic brain injury can result when the head suddenly and violently hits an object, or when an object pierces the skull and enters brain tissue.

What are the sypmtoms?

Symptoms of a traumatic brain injury can be mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the extent of the damage to the brain. A person with a mild traumatic brain injury may remain conscious or may experience a loss of consciousness for a few seconds or minutes. Other symptoms of mild traumatic brain injury include headache, confusion, lightheadedness, dizziness, blurred vision or tired eyes, ringing in the ears, bad taste in the mouth, fatigue or lethargy, a change in sleep patterns, behavioral or mood changes, and trouble with memory, concentration, attention, or thinking. A person with a moderate or severe traumatic brain injury may show these same symptoms, but may also have a headache that gets worse or does not go away, repeated vomiting or nausea, convulsions or seizures, an inability to awaken from sleep, dilation of one or both pupils of the eyes, slurred speech, weakness or numbness in the extremities, loss of coordination, and increased confusion, restlessness, or agitation.

How is traumatic brain injury diagnosed?

Diagnostic tests may include:

  • blood tests
  • X-ray - a diagnostic test that uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.
  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - a diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.
  • computed tomography scan (Also called a CT or CAT scan.) - a diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of x-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices), both horizontally and vertically, of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general x-rays.
  • electroencephalogram (EEG) - a procedure that records the brain's continuous, electrical activity by means of electrodes attached to the scalp.

What is the treatment for traumatic brain injury?

Specific treatment of a head injury will be determined by your child's physician based on:

  • the age, overall health, and medical history of the patient
  • extent of the head injury
  • type of head injury
  • the patient's tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the head injury
  • the patient's opinion or preference

Depending on the severity of the injury, treatment may include:

  • ice
  • rest
  • topical antibiotic ointment and adhesive bandage
  • observation
  • immediate medical attention
  • stitches
  • hospitalization for observation
  • diagnostic tests
  • surgery

Treatment is individualized depending on the extent of the condition and the presence of other injuries. Head injury patients may require monitoring for increased intracranial pressure (pressure inside the skull). Head injury may cause the brain to swell. Since the brain is covered by the skull, there is only a small amount of room for it to swell. This causes pressure inside the skull to increase, which can lead to brain damage.

Last Update

May 24, 2010
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