What Complications Can Arise From Traumatic Brain Injuries
The results of traumatic brain injuries may have repercussions that reach over many years, or even a lifetime. During childhood, the brain is very plastic but as it grows it becomes less able to recover or learn new things. As a result, when a traumatic brain injury (TBI) results in severe damage, it is unlikely the person will make a complete recovery. There are many, many possible ways the brain can be compromised as a result of TBI. Here’s a look at some of the complications that can arise.
Altered State of Consciousness
Even a concussion, the most common type of TBI, can lead to an immediate loss of consciousness. However, severe TBI can lead to extended periods of time in which the patient is not quite themselves. This might be a few weeks of mood swings, or months of being in a coma. A coma is a prolonged state of unconsciousness, during which the person is unresponsive to (most) stimuli and unable to communicate.
Eventually, a coma may turn into a vegetative state in which the patient may respond to painful stimuli and act reflexively (i.e. breathe and blink), but is not really aware of surroundings. A vegetative state may be permanent or it may become a minimally conscious state. The Mayo Clinic defines a minimally conscious state as “a condition of severely altered consciousness but with some evidence of self-awareness or awareness of one’s environment.”
Rarely, individuals who undergo TBI specific to the pons, located in the brainstem, may suffer from locked-in syndrome. Locked-in syndrome is characterized by complete consciousness with an inability to move; communication is generally made by eye movements or blinking. Conversely, brain death occurs when there is absolutely no activity in the brain and no chance of reversal.
Serious Issues Without Regards to Consciousness
Whether or not a person is conscious there are several other issues that can develop as a result of TBI. Seizures, a result of misfirings of neurons in the brain, may be a few moments of staring off into space or several moments of full body convulsions. The patient is most susceptible to seizures in the week following TBI, but when it develops and stays it is called post traumatic epilepsy.
TBI may also lead to fluid building up in the brain, an infection called meningitis that engulfs the whole nervous system, damage to blood vessels (increasing risk of stroke), or nerve damage. Nerve damage can cause issues such as facial paralysis, vision loss, or difficulty swallowing. Additionally, the damage caused by TBI can increase the likelihood of developing degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Cognitive Impacts of TBI
Nearly every aspect of brain function can be affected by TBI, depending upon severity and placement of injuries. According to the Mayo Clinic, TBI can interfere with cognitive functions (such as memory, learning, or how quickly you think) or executive functioning problems (such as multi-tasking or decision making). Communication may also be damaged. This might mean you have trouble coming up with the right words, difficulty reading, or a hard time understanding conversations. Additional, the ability to navigate social interactions, like taking turns, may be damaged.
TBI can also cause severe behavior changes, such as a change in the patient’s self-image or engaging in risky behaviors. The emotions may be interfered with, leading to mood swings, depression, or unnecessary anger. Patients with TBI may experience a change in sleeping habits, such as constant fatigue and lack of energy or sudden insomnia. Sensory input may seem different; patients may taste or smell things differently, develop blurry vision or a ringing in the ears, or have trouble balancing or realizing what they are looking out.
There are many, many other issues that can result from TBI. You may have one problem that’s scarcely noticeable or experience several obvious deficits. Because there is still so much about the brain we don’t understand, there are rarely quick or easy cures to TBI complications. It is of extreme importance that you seek emergency treatment immediately following any kind of traumatic brain injury.