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What Happens to the Brain During a Traumatic Brain Injury?

What happens to the brain during a traumatic brain injury is similar to what happens to other parts of the body in response to injury. The injury causes the brain to fill up with fluid, which causes swelling. However, because it is enclosed inside the skull, the brain cannot safely expand as the swelling increases, leading to a rise in pressure within the head. This can cause further damage to the brain.

Chemical changes within the brain can also lead to issues with thinking, emotions, and behavior. These changes within and around the brain occur alongside other changes that may differ from case to case, based on all the particulars of the brain injury in question.

Mild trauma typically leads to mild swelling and little or no change in how the brain functions. Moderate or severe cases can lead to a more significant degree swelling, internal bleeding, and blood clots. This can occur alongside potential complications from tears in the protective layers surrounding the brain, and the presence of bacteria, bone, hair, or other material which, in the context of a TBI, would be considered debris.

Types of Brain Damage

The average adult brain weighs between three and four pounds. It is comprised of very delicate soft tissue that floats in the fluid contained inside the skull. There are three layers of membrane that protect and cover the brain. Based on this physiological makeup, the brain can be squeezed, stretched, and even bumped around inside the head. Sudden jolts, movements, or trauma can cause the brain to shake violently within the skull, leading to brain injuries.

Closed vs. Open Brain injuries

Brain injuries can either be closed or open. A closed injury means the skull was not penetrated, while an open brain injury means the skull suffered penetration, exposing the brain to external elements. Gunshot wounds are an example of an open head injury. Vehicle crashes typically result in closed brain injuries.

In closed injuries, the brain usually strikes the inside of the skull, causing varying degrees of bruising. Nerves and blood vessels can become damaged in this process. The damage can be localized in one area or spread throughout the brain. Open injuries tend to be localized, but they are usually much more severe than closed injuries, even though the latter can spread or diffuse throughout multiple areas of the brain.

Primary vs. Secondary Brain Injuries

Brain injuries are further categorized as either primary or secondary injuries. Primary TBI may be understood as direct injury to the brain by some mechanical means at the time the trauma is suffered. Doctors often cannot reverse the damage from primary injuries. Instead, the treatment team aims to prevent further brain damage from occurring.

Secondary injuries are those that develop after an initial injury occurs, usually within a few days. This type of TBI is typically the body’s physiological response to an injury. Secondary TBI can occur from an inadequate supply of oxygen to the brain, blood pressure issues, high intracranial pressure—this is the pressure inside the skull—or infections.

Leading Causes of Brain Injuries

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the leading causes of brain injuries are falls, vehicle accidents, assault, being struck by an object, and violence. Brain injuries are a leading cause of death in the elderly. Young children are also disproportionately affected by brain injuries. Outside of these age groups, traumatic brain injuries occur most often from workplace falls and vehicle accidents.

Symptoms and Effects of Brain Injuries

The symptoms and effects of a brain injury that a patient exhibits will depend on the type of injury sustained. Brain injuries can lead to a wide range of cognitive, socio-emotional, physical, sensory, and communication-related issues, including:

  • Falling into a coma or suffering brain cell death.
  • Confusion.
  • Memory problems.
  • Issues with problem-solving.
  • An inability to make judgments or understand certain concepts.
  • A loss of a sense of time or space.
  • A loss of smell or taste.
  • Irritability or aggressiveness.
  • Paralysis or weakness in the fingers or toes.
  • Poor balance or dizziness.
  • Lethargy and low endurance.
  • Poor hand-eye coordination.
  • Shaking and tremors.
  • Issues with swallowing and speaking.
  • Vision problems.
  • Communication deficits.
  • Difficulty speaking, reading, or understanding.
  • Headaches.
  • A loss of bowel or bladder control.
  • Anxiety and depression.

Treatments and Recovery

Serious injuries can leave an accident victim with permanent health complications. Treatments for brain injuries include surgery, medication, and therapy. Mild brain injury cases—such as concussions—usually heal on their own within a few weeks or months after the accident or events that caused them.

Despite widely available treatments, however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that brain injuries kill over 56,000 people annually. This is mainly because it is impossible to reverse the damage from a primary traumatic brain injury once it occurs.

Seeking Help for a Traumatic Brain Injury

What happens to the brain during a traumatic brain injury varies from person to person. Still, one constant is that these cases can lead to serious financial losses, long-term health complications, and significant pain and suffering.

Contact Friedman & Simon, L.L.P., to learn more about pursuing a personal injury claim after an accident that led to a traumatic brain injury. Call (516) 932-0400 to schedule a free consultation.

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