Brain injuries come in many different types and degrees. If you have suffered a brain injury, understanding the types of brain injuries you may have suffered can help you make decisions about your medical treatment and a brain injury lawsuit, including the selection of your lawyer, the type of damages you seek, and more.
The Seriousness of a Brain Injury
A sudden physical trauma to the brain can result in injuries in a variety of ways, and likely involve many factors leading up to the impact. Brain injuries are a common occurrence in every hospital in the US, and are usually a result from car accidents and slip and falls. However, brain injuries happen in a few different ways, and some people don’t even realize the severity of their injury until the damage becomes permanent.
Let’s look at the scenario of a minor car crash. Being involved in a car crash can make life complicated, which is why some people rather ignore the pain from a headache or back pain because they would rather not deal with going to the doctor and paying medical bills. This is fairly common in cases of minor fender-benders, but is also an avenue to long-term brain injury to many people. After all, even though the energy of a car collision is absorbed mostly by crumple-zones, seat belts, and airbags, a large portion of energy is still being exerted on the driver. In minor car crashes, the only device that will really absorb any of the impact is the seat belt, while the rest goes directly into the driver. This is why it is important to visit a doctor after a car crash, even if it’s a minor one.
Blunt, Non-penetrative Injuries
Brain cells are by far the most fragile cells in the human body. Besides the skull, the brain has cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) as a defense in the event of a traumatic event to the head. CSF is a clear fluid that circulates around and within the brain and acts as a buffer to absorb energy from a blow to the head. In fact, in its normal state your brain is never actually attached to your skull.
If the brain’s CSF fails to absorb the impact, then the brain may be damage in two distinct ways. The first injury to the brain will occur at the point of impact to the head. In this instance, the force of the blow is enough to force the brain to collide into the skull wall. The second injury will occur when the brain recoils from the impact and collides in the skull wall on the opposite side of the point of impact. This specific type of brain injury is called a “coup-contrecoup” injury.
To better understand this type of injury, think of it like this; your brain is floating in a glass jar filled with water. If the jar falls to the floor but doesn’t break, the brain inside will mash up against one side of the jar and then the other.
The force needed to cause this type of injury is substantial in adults. However, children are especially susceptible to non-piercing head injuries. Coup-contrecoup injuries can also be responsible for many secondary injuries to the brain.
It’s a common misconception that whiplash is nothing more than a neck injury. However, it is now known that whiplash and other specific types of injuries can cause a “diffuse axonal injury” (DAI) to the brain. To understand this form of injury, you need to understand the different types of brain matter.
There are two types of brain matter; grey matter and white matter. Grey matter is the part of the brain that is responsible for processing information and hence is where most of the brain’s electrical synapses occur. Grey matter is found mainly on the exterior of the brain, and is separated from the white matter at the grey/white junction. White matter, on the other hand, is responsible for chemical and electrical communication to different parts of the brain. White matter is composed mostly of long cells called “axons” that are coated by a white fatty insulation called melatonin. Don’t worry, there won’t be a test on this or anything.
It’s all fairly complicated, but DAIs occur when white matter axons are stretched to the point of being damaged. This occurs when the brain is shaken or jolted rapidly, hence why whiplash injuries can injure both the neck and brain.
Here’s a visual to help with understand a DAI; the axons in your brain are like rubber bands that have been stretched out to connect the brain to its different parts. When your head shakes or is jolted to harshly, these rubber bands stretch even further and become damaged or snap. It not just the “yes/no” movement of the head that can cause a DAI either, rotational trauma to the brain (usually seen in bicycle and motorcycle crashes) can also cause a DAI if a person’s head hits the ground at an angle.
Lack of Oxygen (Anoxia)
Our brain cells need a constant supply of oxygen in order to function. It only takes about eight minutes without oxygen to cause brain damage. If the brain lacks oxygen for longer than 10 minutes, it is likely that the permanent and severe brain injury has occurred. Interestingly, the rate at which a person loses consciousness from lack of oxygen varies from person to person and also depends the circumstances of how the person is losing oxygen.
Secondary Brain Injuries
Head trauma can also result after the traumatic event through other secondary brain injuries. These secondary injuries are commonly due to bleeding (hemorrhage), bruising (contusion) or chemical reactions in the brain that will in turn damage the brain’s cells.
- Brain Hemorrhages (Hematoma) — When a bleed in the brain occurs, several issues arise. Bleeding inside of the skull can cause intracranial pressure and stop the flow of blood. In turn, the oxygen and glucose-starved cells start to deteriorate if the intracranial pressure is not treated immediately. The second way a brain hemorrhage can injure the brain is by blood or CTF pushing and shifting the brain to the extent of damaging its cells.
- Calcium Channel Disturbance — When tissue in the brain is damaged, it releases a substance called excitatory amino acids (EAAs), which can stimulate the calcium channels in the brain. This, in turn, causes the brain to become flooded with calcium and causes severe damage to brain cells due to metabolic failure. Other forms of harmful chemicals can form in the brain after an injury, a calcium channel over-stimulation is just one such example.
- Infection — Any form of skull penetration or fracture could lead to an infection inside the brain. CSF leakage or any air found inside of a brain cavity can lead to infection. Infections are very serious health hazards and are a leading cause of death in hospitals, hence why your doctor will likely prescribe a regimen of antibiotics in such a scenario.
Whatever type of brain injury you have suffered, a brain injury lawsuit may help you get compensation so you can better cope with the effects. Please talk to a local brain injury attorney.