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Consumer Guide - Understanding Brain Injury
Brain injury can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time. It affects people throughout all communities, regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, socio-economic status, age, or any other variable.
Brain injury is our nation's leading cause of death and disability. In the United States, approximately 1.7 million people sustain a brain injury each year. Americans are five times more likely to sustain a traumatic brain injury than to be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, HIV/AIDs, and breast cancer combined. In Minnesota alone, more than 10,000 cases of hospital-treated TBI are reported annually and more than 100,000 Minnesotans live with a disability as a result of brain injury.
Defining Brain Injury
Brain injury is damage to living brain tissue resulting from an internal or external injury or event. The damage may cause temporary or permanent changes to one or more of the following functional areas: cognitive, physical, behavioral, and emotional.
The severity of a brain injury ranges from mild (e.g. a short change in mental status or consciousness) to severe (e.g. unconsciousness or loss of memory for an extended period of time). Mild brain injuries are the most common. Brain injury may occur with no loss of consciousness or visible physical injury and symptoms can be temporary or permanent. Unfortunately, many mild brain injuries go undiagnosed for weeks, months or even years after the injury.
Since no two brains are the same, each brain injury is unique and can vary from person to person. Symptoms may appear right away or they can take days or even weeks to show up. After brain injury, people differ how they adjust or even identify with the changes. Fortunately, there are resources and programs available to help people throughout their recovery and maintain a good quality of life after brain injury. Please use this guide to learn about brain injury and the variety of resources available.
Types of Brain Injury: TBI and ABI
Brain injuries fall into two categories: Traumatic Brain Injury or Acquired Brain Injury. The term "brain injury" will be utilized throughout this guide to encompass all forms of brain injury.
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the brain’s normal function. This type of brain injury is caused by an external physical force resulting in a closed injury (resulting from movement of the brain within the skull) or penetrating injury (due to a foreign object entering the skull).
Possible Causes of TBI include:
- Motor vehicle crashes involving occupants or pedestrians
- Sports and recreation injuries (e.g. sports concussions, bicycling injuries)
- Assaults and violence (e.g. domestic violence, abuse, gunshot wounds/firearm injuries)
- Shaken Baby Syndrome- Abusive Head Trauma (AHT) or inflicted Traumatic Brain Injury (iTBI)
- Blunt trauma- struck by or against an object
- Penetrating or open head wounds (e.g. lacerations)
- Explosive blasts (e.g. Improvised Explosive Devices)
Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) is an injury to the brain that occurs after birth and is not hereditary, congenital, or degenerative. ABIs result from internal damage to the brain. This type of brain injury often results in changes to neurological activity that disrupts the physical integrity, metabolic activity, or functional ability of the cell.
Possible Causes of ABI include:
- Brain Aneurysms
- Brain Tumors
- Toxic Exposures (e.g. substance abuse, kidney failure, carbon monoxide poisoning)
- Degenerative Neurological Illnesses (e.g. Alzheimer's disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease)
- Metabolic Injuries (e.g. diabetic coma, insulin shock, liver disease, kidney disease)
- Infections that cause swelling in the brain (e.g. encephalitis, meningitis)
- Intracranial Surgeries
- Reduction or lack of oxygen to the brain (e.g. strangulation, near drowning, heart attack, cardiac arrest, cardiopulmonary arrest, drug overdose)
- Anoxia – complete lack of oxygen to the brain for an extended period of time
- Hypoxia – decreased flow of oxygen to the brain
Functional Changes Caused by Brain Injury
A brain injury may result in mild, moderate, or severe impairments in one or more of the following areas:
- Cognitive Functions
- Short-term or long-term memory loss
- Impaired judgment and perception
- Trouble concentrating or paying attention
- Difficulty with language or speech production and thought processing (aphasia, receptive language, dysarthria)
- Spatial disorientation
- Difficulty organizing or problem solving
- Physical Functions
- Sleep Difficulties (fatigue or insomnia)
- Sensory loss or impairment (vision, hearing, etc.)
- Headaches or migraines
- Trouble with balance and dizziness
- Difficulty swallowing
- Decreased motor abilities
- Sexual dysfunction
- Emotional/Behavioral Functions
- Depression, grief over loss of ability, or chemical changes caused by the injury
- Anxiety, restlessness, agitation, frustration, impatience
- Lack of motivation
- Reduced level of self-esteem
- Mood swings
- Impulsiveness and lack of inhibition
- Personality changes
- Emotional flatness and passivity
"I've broken arms; I've had severe burns. With that stuff you just cowboy up and dig through it. But, with brain injury if you try to do that... it actually makes it worse. You get to a point where you overdo it. It'll wipe you out for days." — Mark Karppi (Mind Matters, Winter 2013, page 7)
If you or someone you know has been affected by brain injury, please know that you are not alone. Contact the Minnesota Brain Injury Alliance at 612-378-2742 or 800-699-6442 for more information about brain injury, supports, and services.