Just a Bump on the Head? Think again. The Truth about Traumatic Brain Injuries

Have you ever counted the number of times someone takes a spill on the hit show "Wipeout", or laughed at the falls people take on America's Funniest Home Videos? With more Americans leading active lifestyles, head injuries are becoming common, yet overlooked injuries that can have debilitating effects if not treated properly. People may hit their heads in falls or crashes may report immediate symptoms that quickly subside, but they may complain of lingering headaches and other cognitive issues weeks, or even months, later.

The Mayo Clinic defines traumatic brain injury (TBI) as damage to the brain as a result of an injury; usually the result of a blow to the head that causes the brain to collide with the inside of the skull. The resulting (and immediate) damage can include contusions, blood clots, tearing of the lobes or blood vessels and nerve damage. Over time, traumatic brain injuries can lead to epilepsy, infections, extreme blood pressure, memory loss and nerve damage.

While media coverage has increased awareness of concussions in professional sports (especially professional football), falls are the leading cause of head injuries. It is estimated that 35 percent of all head injuries occur because of a fall. About 1.7 million people suffer TBI in the United States each year, while an estimated 3 million people live with permanent disabilities because of head injuries.

So if you feel like you merely "got your bell rung" you may be at risk of a serious impairment.

Because of this, it is critical to properly diagnose and treat a head injury. First responders will interview the injured party (if possible) and other witnesses to uncover specifics, such as how long the person has been unconscious, where the head was struck and how the injury occurred. A 15-point aptitude test, the Glasgow Coma Scale, is initially used to assess the severity of the injury.

Doctors also rely on MRIs and CT scans to properly understand the kind and scope of injury sustained. Since swelling may occur, doctors might use a probe to monitor the intracranial pressure and will take steps to relieve such pressure and reduce the risk of further damage. Temporary coma-inducing drugs, including anesthetics and benzodiazepines may be used to stabilize the person, while anti-seizure drugs and diuretics may be used to relieve pressure on brain.

Most importantly, doctors focus on ensuring that the brain receives sufficient oxygen and blood during the initial stages of treatment. Patients in medically induced comas need less oxygen in their brains. In the meantime, particular care is given to the neck and head to prevent further injury.

While not every brain injury will require extensive treatment, it is important to have at least a cursory review to eliminate the prospect of serious damage. If you have suffered a traumatic brain injury, an experienced personal injury attorney can advise you of your rights and options.