How does the brain work?

The brain is made up of tracts of nerve cells (neurons) that carry information to direct functions of the body such as breathing, heart rate, body temperature, metabolism, thought processing and body movements. It also controls behavior and personality as well as the senses – sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch. When someone suffers a brain injury, these functions can be impaired.

How do brain injuries occur?

Traumatic brain injury (TBI), also known as acquired brain injury, are injuries suffered when there is a sudden and violent blow to the head, as opposed to brain impairment due to hereditary or genetic causes. Such brain injuries happen when a blow breaks the skull and directly damages brain tissue. They can also occur when an outside force causes the brain to move inside the skull, pulling apart nerve fibers and damaging brain tissue.

What are the most common causes of traumatic brain injuries?

The three leading causes of brain injury are auto accidents, violence (mostly involving firearms and suicide) and falls, the most common cause of brain injury among people 65 and older. Other causes include Shaken Baby Syndrome and sports injuries. Another cause is airway obstruction, cases of which have occurred in hospitals as a result of doctor or hospital staff error. Some brain injuries also have been known to occur in the workplace or as the result of unsafe premises, including crush injuries to the chest, electrical shock and various head injuries. Brain injuries also can result from exposure to toxic chemicals or gases, near drowning, choking, infectious disease and heart attack or stroke.

How many brain injuries are serious?

In all, about 1.5 million people suffer brain injuries each year. Most of the injuries, about 75 percent, are relatively minor, including mild concussions. Each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 million people are treated at hospitals and released. (Others may forego treatment or go to personal physicians.) However, nearly 250,000 people each year require hospitalization as the result of brain injuries and more than 50,000 die.

What are the symptoms of traumatic brain injury?

The symptoms of brain injury are many and varied but can include the following: headache, dizziness, vision changes, confusion, ringing in the ears, fluid emanating from the nose or ears, slow pulse, slow breathing rate, nausea and vomiting, sluggishness, difficulty thinking, inappropriate emotional responses, slurred speech, body numbness or tingling, loss of consciousness, loss of bladder or bowel control, respiratory failure and paralysis.

Who is most at risk?

Brain injuries can happen to anyone, but statistics show that men suffer twice the risk of women, presumably because they drive more and are more likely to suffer injuries performing physical labor in the workplace. The risk is also higher in adolescents and young adults and people older than 75, most of whom suffer brain injury in falls.

What can be done for victims of severe traumatic brain injury?

Little can be done to reverse brain damage caused by trauma. Many victims require lifelong care and institutionalization. According to one study reported in 1999, the cost of traumatic brain injury in the United States exceeded $48 billion annually.

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