Traumatic brain injuries are caused by any forceful blow to the head. Some of the accidents that often cause brain injuries include car crashes, truck accidents, motorcycle spills, slip and fall accidents, construction accidents, sporting accidents, and explosions. The recovery process is often long and expensive. Many TBI victims require surgeries, visits with specialists such as neurologists, and multiple visits with a range of therapists. And this is the recovery process if all things go well.
Unfortunately, there are often complications that can delay the recovery process, and leave a victim with permanent brain damage. Some of these complications can prove fatal.
What are short-term complications arising from TBIs?
The immediate days and weeks after a brain injury are among the most challenging for victims, families, and medical professionals. According to Brain Line, some of the immediate concerns for every TBI patient are:
- Seizures (epilepsy). About 24% of patients with brain contusions or hematomas develop a seizure within 24 hours of the injury. About 50% of patients with penetrating injuries develop 24-hour seizures. If the seizures persist, doctors usually use anticonvulsant drugs to treat the seizures. Doctors may use an EEG test to help decide if the benefits of anti-seizure medications outweigh the side effects.
- Infections inside the intracranial cavity are dangerous. Intracranial infections can occur “outside of the dura, below the dura, below the arachnoid (meningitis), or within the space of the brain itself (abscess).” Treatment usually requires antibiotics. Surgery may be needed to remove infected tissue. Meningitis is very dangerous because it can spread to the “rest of the brain and nervous system.”
- Vascular injuries. The vascular system provides blood to the brain cells. Normally, the immune system can fix damage to small blood vessels. Damage to bigger vessels can cause complications such as stroke. Blood clots in other parts of the head may develop.
- Cranial nerve injuries. These injuries may be caused by a fracture of the skull. Damage to the “seventh cranial nerve, called the facial nerve, is the most commonly injured cranial nerve in TBI and damage to it can result in paralysis of facial muscles.”
Most TBI accident victims have a lot of pain if they’re conscious. Headaches are the most common type of conscious pain. Unconscious victims, including those in a vegetative state or a coma, can suffer bed or pressure sores, “recurrent bladder infections, pneumonia or other life-threatening infections.” Other immediate complications include:
- Hydrocephalus or post-traumatic ventricular enlargement
- CSF (Cerebrospinal fluid) leaks
- Polytrauma (trauma to other parts of the body in addition to the brain).
What long-term complications can arise from a brain injury?
Once the immediate risks have abated, brain injury victims still face dangers and risks to their recovery. According to Brain Line, long-term complications from a traumatic brain injury include:
- Unexpected fever. Fevers may be due to an infection such as a lung infection (pneumonia) or a bladder infection. Blood clots and other conditions may cause a fever. The brain injury itself may cause a fever.
- Blood clots (deep vein thrombosis, or DVT). DVT clots form in the arms or legs. They’re fairly common. About 40% of people with brain injuries suffer DVT-related clots. They’re dangerous because if the clot breaks off and travels to the lang, the patient could die. DVT signs include redness, swelling, or pain in the clot area. Blood thinners may be used to reduce the risk of a clot. Additional tests, such as a blood flow test or a CT scan may be ordered to detect a blood clot. Treatment includes strong blood thinners or filters that are inserted in the veins.
- Hydrocephalus. This is a condition where “there is a buildup of fluid in the hollow spaces of the brain (ventricles). The extra fluid can squeeze the rest of the brain and cause symptoms.” The symptoms, which may not be clear, can include a small change in the victim’s arousal level or recovery level. Doctors may order a CT scan to detect hydrocephalus. About 5% of TBI patients develop hydrocephalus (the percentage increases based on severity). Treatment includes the placement of a shunt after consultation with a neurosurgeon.
- Heterotopic ossification. This condition occurs in 10-20% of patients. The term refers “to the formation of extra bone in the body.” “The extra bone most often forms in the large joints of the body such as the hip or the shoulder.” Symptoms include swelling, pain, and tightening of the joint. X-rays and bone scans are used to help diagnose the condition. Treatments include “range of motion exercises, bracing or splinting, medications, or even surgery.”
- Fractures and nerve injuries. Nearly 30% of people with a TBI also have arm or leg fractures or nerve damage. Discovery of these injuries is often delayed because the initial focus is on saving the accident victim’s life and the difficulty of making a diagnose in a patient who is not conscious or minimally conscious.
- High blood pressure (hypertension). This condition may occur if the part of the brain that controls blood pressure is damaged. Treatment involves anti-hypertensive medications.
- Spasticity. Many TBI victims suffer from spasticity. Spasticity means that some of the “muscles of the body become tight or hypertonic because they cannot fully relax.” Spasticity is very painful and prevents the accident victim from using a body part. Treatments include physical therapy, “splinting or bracing, and serial casting.” Other treatments include medications to relax the muscles, “nerve blocks, baclofen pumps, botulinum toxin injections, and surgery.”
Additional long-term complications of a brain injury include:
- Respiratory care difficulties
- Nutrition problems that may require the use of a feeding tube
- Difficulty swallowing
- Bowel and bladder problems
- Skin disorders
Seizures are also a long-term risk in addition to a short-term risk.
At Philbrook Law Office, our Vancouver and Battle Ground, WA personal injury lawyers understand just how devastating brain injuries are. We work aggressively to hold drivers, property owners, construction sites, and anyone else who caused your TBI accountable for all your damages. We work with your doctors to fully understand all the medical care you will need and all the ways your traumatic brain injuries are affecting your life. To discuss your legal rights, call our offices in Vancouver or Battle Ground, WA. You can schedule a free appointment by calling us at 360-695-3309 or by filling out our contact form to schedule an appointment. We represent brain injury victims on a contingency fee basis.
Founding Attorney Matthew Philbrook attended Clark College, Washington State University, and Gonzaga University School of Law. He is a member of the Washington State and Oregon State Bar Associations and started Philbrook Law Office in 2005. He specializes in Personal Injury, DUI and Criminal Defense cases. Learn more about Mr. Philbrook.