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What is a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

More than 2 million cases of traumatic brain injury (TBI) are reported each year.  Out of that number only about 22% receive hospitalization or other medical attention.  Thus thousands go undiagnosed because no medical treatment is sought by the injured person.  Automobile accidents are responsible for approximately half of the traumatic brain injuries reported each year.  The following information is designed to help you better understand head injuries/traumatic brain injuries that might result from an automobile accident and to help you determine what you need to do if you have been a victim of such an injury.

Q. What is a traumatic brain injury (TBI)?

A. A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a brain injury which results from an accident that is a traumatic event…such as an automobile accident.  In fact, approximately 50% of TBIs suffered each year are the result of an automobile accident – making it the leading cause of traumatic brain injuries.

Q. I have heard that there are more than one type of traumatic brain injuries, is this correct?

A. Yes, typically traumatic brain injuries are classified either as open head injuries or closed head injuries.

Open Head Injury:  In an open head injury the injury results in penetration to the skull leading to brain damage.  For example an injury from a gunshot wound or an injury which causes a skull fracture that presses inward leading to swelling of the brain.

Closed Head Injury:  In a closed head injury, the skull is not penetrated.  The brain injury results when an external force to the head causes the brain to move within the skull so that the soft brain matter strikes the inside or interior of the skull.  This leads to an injury to a specific area of the brain and generalized injuries throughout the brain.  Such an of injury might occur when a vehicle stops suddenly because of a collision, but a persons head keeps moving and strikes a stationary object within the vehicle such as a windshield.  This type of injury can also occur if something hits the head causing the brain to strike the skull.  One common example would be a baseball player being hit in the head with a baseball. Brain injuries are also classified as serious, moderate and mild.

Q. What is the difference between a serious, moderate and mild brain injury?

A. Serious brain injuries are often associated with open head injuries and typically involve bleeding within the brain (hemorrhaging) which will result in blood clots within the brain matter (hematoma) or swelling within the brain.  Injuries often result in the build up of pressure on the brain which often lead to permanent brain damage and even death. These injuries are readily detectible by modern diagnostic tools such as MRIs and CAT Scans.

Likewise, moderate brain injuries also are detected by modern diagnostic tools.  Thus, when an individual suffers a severe or moderate brain injury, they will typically be detected by the trauma team physicians and other treating physicians thus leading to the hospitalization of the victim.

The last category of brain injury is a mild traumatic brain injury or MTBI.  Although classified as a mild injury, that does not mean that the injury is an insignificant injury.  In fact 15% of individuals suffering mild traumatic injuries will continue to suffer with disabling symptoms a year after their injury.

Q. What is a mild traumatic brain injury?

A. The term mild in MTBI refers to the extent of the brain trauma or injury as indicated by the person’s responsiveness and recall.  A brain injury is termed moderate or severe only if it involves penetration of the skull; prolonged coma; signs of deteriorating neurological status such as difficulty breathing; or evidence of localized brain damage such as speech or visual impairment.

In a physical sense a mild traumatic brain injury occurs when the soft floating brain is slammed against the skulls uneven interior causing the brains threadlike nerve cells to be stretched, strained and even torn at the point of impact and/or throughout the brain.  The nerve cell damage is usually microscopic.  However, the effect on the brains neurological circuitry is significant.