Brain Injury Information Center
Brain Injuries - An Overview
Depending on the severity and location of the injury, the effects of a brain injury can range from a minor annoyance to serious and life threatening. The study and diagnosis of head injuries is complex. There may be overt signs of the injury such as loss of speech and motor skills, or there may only be more subtle personality changes. If you or a loved one has suffered a brain injury, a lawyer with experience handling brain injury claims can explain your legal options and help you obtain compensation for your injuries.
The Brain and its Functions
The brain is the control center of the human body. It can be described as a bundle of gelatinous nervous system material floating in a protective sea of cerebrospinal fluid. The fluid acts as a shock absorber that dampens movement of the brain when a person is jolted. All of this fluid is encased inside of the human skull, which acts as a protective shell. The outside of the skull is smooth, but the inside is rough and boney. It is these rough, boney structures inside the skull that can injure the brain when a person is struck or jolted.
The brain is a sensory processor. This means that the brain controls thought, smell, sight, memory and touch. In addition, the brain controls vital bodily functions such as walking, talking, breathing and heart rate.
The brain is divided into these parts:
- Cerebrum the largest section of the brain; parts of the cerebrum are related to the control of cognitive abilities, memory, motor function, learning and speech
- Cerebellum part of the hindbrain that coordinates voluntary and involuntary muscle movements
- Brain stem the lower extension of the brain that acts as a relay station between incoming stimulus and the rest of the brain
- Diencephalon made up of the thalamus, which relays sensory stimuli, and hypothalamus, which controls appetite, body temperature, water balance, pituitary secretions, emotions and sleep cycles
Types of Brain Injuries
Traumatic brain injuries are generally classified as mild, moderate or severe, based on the injured person's Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) number. The GCS assigns a point value based on particular responses given by the injured person. The majority of brain injuries are classified as "mild." A mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI) is a traumatically induced physiological disruption of brain function as shown by any loss of consciousness lasting approximately 30 minutes or less; any memory loss for events immediately before or after the incident, but not lasting more than 24 hours; any alteration in mental state at the time of the accident such as confusion or feeling disoriented; or any focal neurological deficit that may or may not be transient. The Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee of the Brain Injury Interdisciplinary Special Interest Group of the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine developed this definition of MTBI.
The Causes of Brain Injuries
Brain injuries can generally be classified by their cause. There are injuries caused by contact and those that are not caused by contact. A contact traumatic brain injury causes damage to the brain as a result of an external force to the head. A contact traumatic brain injury can be a penetrating injury or a closed head injury, and result in brain swelling, bruising of the brain tissue or nerve shearing. If the head is moving at the time of the contact, a contrecoup injury, in which the brain damage occurs on the side opposite the point of impact, occurs as a result of the brain slamming into that side of the skull. There can be a severe injury to the brain even if there is not any external evidence of damage. Contact traumatic brain injuries may be caused by:
- Sports mishaps
- Work-related accidents
- Slip and fall accidents
- Car, truck and motorcycle accidents
- Violence or assault
Contact is not necessary to cause a brain injury. A person does not need to hit his or her head or be rendered unconscious to have a brain injury. Brain injuries happen frequently when a person has suffered from a non-contact injury such as whiplash.
In addition, parts of the brain may be injured as a result of medical emergencies such as stroke or heart attack. Stroke and heart attack may affect the brain's blood and oxygen supply, causing localized or even widespread brain damage. In addition, the brain may be injured as a result of oxygen deprivation caused by near drowning, suffocation or cardiac arrest. It is important to note that traumatic brain injury is different from these types of anoxic brain injury, in which the brain is deprived of oxygen. Traumatic brain injury results in bruising or swelling of the brain; anoxic brain injury results in brain cells dying because of oxygen deprivation.
The Effects of a Head Injury
The effects of a brain injury largely depend on the severity of the injury and the location of the affected part of the brain. Symptoms of a traumatic brain injury include bleeding from the head, confusion, loss of consciousness, lowered pulse and/or breathing rate and drainage of clear fluid from the nose or ears. Symptoms of a concussion include loss of consciousness, dizziness, confusion, memory loss, vomiting, numbness, shock and anxiety. All head injuries have the potential to be serious. Some common conditions of a traumatic brain injury include: concussion, coma, skull fracture, brain contusion, epidural hematoma, subdural hematoma and brain herniation.
When a brain injury is severe, it can dramatically affect the person's ability to return to a normal life. Depending on the location and severity of the injury there may be physical and/or behavioral effects, which are explained more fully on the "Causes and Effects of Brain Injuries" page. A severe head injury can affect a person's ability to work, learn, interact with his or her family and handle daily tasks.
Diagnosing and Treating a Brain Injury
A permanent brain injury may be difficult to recognize and prove. Many of the associated changes in a person's behavior or personality can be subtle. The earlier a brain injury is diagnosed, the earlier a person can begin a treatment program. The following are diagnostic tools used to determine the extent and nature of a brain injury.
- CT Scan
- PET Scan
- Psychological and functional tests
Treatment and therapy will depend upon the extent and nature of the injury. For example, a person may need physical and occupational rehabilitation to condition muscles and relearn life skills. Generally, the earlier treatment begins, the better.
Contact a Brain Injury Lawyer
Brain injuries can be devastating for both the person injured and his or her family. Therapy, medical treatments and supplies can be expensive, and it is possible that a person may never fully recover from a brain injury. A legal claim may help you secure financial assistance from the party responsible for the injury. If you or a loved one has suffered a brain injury, contact a lawyer who has experience handling brain injury cases to discuss your legal options.
Copyright © 2011 FindLaw, a Thomson Reuters business
DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.