By Dr. Anthony Jennings
Tuesday, April 7, 2009 3:14 AM CDT
March was national Brain Injury Awareness Month, and as an emergency physician, I can attest to the frightening effects of traumatic brain injuries.
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, each year approximately 1.4 million people have a traumatic brain injury, and 1 million people with head injuries are treated in hospital emergency departments. The recent death of actress Natasha Richardson also has drawn attention to the potential danger of a seemingly innocuous bump on the head.
Brain injuries can take many forms and have a wide range of results, from minor, temporary effects to severe brain damage and death. Auto accidents are one of the leading causes of traumatic brain injury, and the media have brought attention to the fact that military personnel may experience the effects of brain injuries long after their tours of duty end.
In fact, while some brain injuries require immediate, emergency medical treatment, others may go undiagnosed until weeks after the injury occurs. In some cases, traumatic brain injuries are associated with post-traumatic stress disorder or other types of emotional disturbances. People who have brain injuries may experience physical difficulties with cognition, language or coordination, or they may exhibit atypical personality traits and psychiatric problems.
Because the brain controls everything from our most basic functions, like respiration, to subtle behavioral traits, the location and severity of injury determine what types of symptoms occur. Some brain injuries involve objects that penetrate the skull, while others result from a blow to the head.