The Causes and Effects of Traumatic Brain Injuries
“Traumatic brain injury” (TBI) is the term used to describe brain dysfunction that occurs by an external force, such as a jolt or blow to the head or by an object penetrating the skull. TBI can happen for a variety of reasons and have a wide range of possible after-effects. The top three causes of TBI’s are car accidents, firearms, and falls. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control, two million Americans per year experience TBI, and 14.3% of those are caused by traffic accidents, making the total number of car crash-related brain injuries approximately 286,000 per year.
There are a number of ways a car accident can lead to a TBI. Typically, when a car crash causes a brain injury, it is via a closed head injury (with no penetration of the skull). The impact is usually caused by the head hitting the dashboard, windshield or the steering wheel, though airbags can also hit with such force that they cause serious head injuries.
The reason that a car crash can create such a huge impact is that, while your car may suddenly stop upon collision, your body is thrown forward at the same speed you were moving at before the collision until it hits something (hopefully your seatbelt, but instead your head against the windshield). One can imagine the force with which an impact at 30mph, 40 mph of more can have on your head. Even low-speed/low impact collisions can cause brain trauma. The jolt or impact of your head on, for example, the windshield, can cause your brain to hit the hard inside of your skull, or/and in addition, any bleeding, swelling, and clotting around the brain can disrupt the flow of oxygen to the brain and cause more severe damage.
The effects of a TBI can range from mild to very severe. The first signs of a TBI, followed by a blow or jolt to the head, is a concussion, disorientation, or loss of consciousness. With a hard enough blow to the head and subsequent bleeding/loss of blood to the brain, however, an individual can be at real risk of entering into a coma, or entering a vegetative state, or in the worst case scenario, irreversible brain death.
Less severe effects include seizures immediately after the car accident, which may remain and develop into post-traumatic epilepsy. Other health problems caused by fluid buildup and blood pressure damage and nerve damage can occur, causing swelling in the brain, or a stroke, or damage to various sensory functions (hearing, vision, touch).
TBI’s can also cause issues in the injured person’s cognitive functioning, making it difficult for them to, e.g. remember things and focus. Motor functioning can also be impaired, causing difficulty with balance, grip, fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination and physical coordination generally. Communication problems can also ensue and be very frustrating, as such communication problems can take the form of, among others, difficulty putting together coherent thoughts and sentences, as well as difficulty following conversations and reading nonverbal signs. Moreover, emotional changes can also occur due to traumatic brain injury, making the sufferer moodier, depressed, aggressive, and potentially cause personality changes.
Finally, traumatic brain injuries can have long term effects that only emerge later. For example, researchers now hypothesize that a TBI may increase the risk that the injured individual can later suffer from degenerative brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and dementia.