Injuries to the Brain
Serving Washington, D.C.
The brain can be injured in a number of different ways, some of which are discussed on this page. However, in addition to these, acquired (non-traumatic) brain injury can come from infections and other disease processes. The Brain Injury Association of America and its local affiliates focus on traumatic brain injury (TBI). However, the resources available may be appropriate for someone who has suffered any form of brain injury and for their family and caregivers. Some of the more common types of brain injury include the following:
Anoxia: Anoxia occurs when there is a lack of oxygen to the brain. A decreased, but not complete lack of oxygen, is called hypoxia. When the brain does not get enough oxygen, brain cells become damaged or die. Anoxic brain injuries often result from a heart attack, and, infrequently, they may result from complications of surgical procedures.
Blast Injuries: The signature injury of modern day war – the blast injury – results from a blast wave being transmitted through the brain. A brain injury due to a blast is often seen following detonation of an IED (improvised explosive device) or RPG (rocket propelled grenade). Additionally, we are seeing blast injuries following explosives and building collapse from terrorist acts, such as was the case in the World Trade Center.
Concussion: Concussion involves a brief loss or alteration of consciousness after a blow or a jolt to the head. There may be a short period of memory loss with complete resolution of symptoms or there may be persistent symptoms, such as headaches. In more serious cases, concussions can lead to, prolonged memory loss, attention deficit and behavioral changes.
Contusion: A direct blow to the head or striking of the head against a hard surface can lead to a bruising of the brain (contusion). The contusion can be directly under the area of impact or on the opposite side of the brain.
Hematomas: Hematomas occur when a blow to the brain ruptures one or more of the blood vessels, leading to bleeding or to leaking of blood from the vessel. There are various kinds of hematomas: epidural hematomas(between the skull and the membrane surrounding the brain), subdural hematomas(between the two layers of the membrane surrounding the brain), and intracranial hematomas(bleeding within the brain). In the case of a spontaneous rupture of a blood vessel, one can develop a hematoma even without trauma.
Skull Fractures: These fractures occur when a blow to the head is hard enough to break the skull. Sometimes this can happen without any piece of the skull moving and pressing against the brain. These are referred to as non-displaced fractures. When the skull bone moves and presses against the brain (depressed skull fracture), it can lead to bleeding and the need for surgical management.
The focus on TBI has increased greatly over the past few years due to the tragically large number of soldiers affected in the war in Iraq. There is a vast repository of literature and other public service messages about brain injury available from the BIAA and the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Visit our resources page to view additional brain injury related resources.