Understanding Traumatic Brain Injury

by Howard Ankin

Chicago personal injury attorneys often represent clients who suffer from traumatic brain injuries. They occur when someone slips and falls, is hit on the playing field, or when an individual is involved in an automobile accident. According to the CDC, the rates of traumatic brain injuries are rising.

In 2001, it was estimated that there were 521 traumatic brain injuries per 100,000 people. Of these, roughly 19 per 100,000 died of their injuries. By 2010, that number had risen to 824 per 100,000. Fortunately, better medicine and treatments have reduced the fatality rate to 17 per 100,000. Nationally, it’s estimated that roughly 5.3 million people are living with some form of long-term damage suffered by a traumatic brain injury.

Traumatic brain injuries can be divided into multiple sub-categories. These categories encompass both the type of injury, and the severity of the injury.


3.8 million concussions are suffered by athletes every year. These account for 9% of all sports related injuries. Further, they affect children at a significant rate. Nearly 58% of ER visits by children under 12, and 46% of ER visits by teenagers are because of concussions.

Concussions can be caused by direct blows from sporting equipment. They can be suffered when a head hits a part of a vehicle during an accident. They can also be inflicted during fights, or when someone slips and hits their head.

A concussion results when the blood vessels within the brain stretch. This can cause a brief loss of consciousness. In severe cases, it can cause permanent damage to cranial nerves. In the most severe cases, a concussion can cause a fatal blood clot to form within the brain

Cerebral Contusions

Contusions often result when the head directly impacts a hard surface. This can cause bleeding within the cortical tissue of the brain. If the contusion is of significant size, or leads to swelling, it may require surgical removal. In many cases, contusions result in loss of consciousness. In a coup-contrecoup contusion, the site of impact and the opposite side of the brain can be affected.

When a patient awakens after suffering a contusion, they are often confused, highly emotional, Contusions can result in memory loss, loss of motor coordination, and loss of speech. In extreme cases, contusions can put the individual into a coma that can persist until the brain recovers.

Diffuse Axonal Injuries

These are caused by shaking or sharp rotation of the head. These are most often the result of physical abuse or fighting, however, they can occur in severe automobile accidents or sports incidents. Diffuse axonal injuries are caused because the structures of the brain are damaged as the body moves but the nerve tissue within the brain lags behind. This tears nerve tissue and disrupts the chemical processes within the brain. This makes diffuse axonal injuries extremely dangerous as they can lead to permanent brain damage, a coma, or death.

Penetrating Injuries

Caused when foreign objects enter the brain, penetrating injuries are common in construction, and automobile accidents. Penetrating injuries can be caused by nails shot from nail guns or sharp objects that enter the cranium when an individual falls. By far, bullets are the most common cause of penetrating brain injuries. Of individuals who die from penetrating brain injuries, 91% are the result of bullet wounds. The severity of the injury depends on the depth the object is able to penetrate to, as well as the location of the brain that is penetrated.

Measuring the Severity of Traumatic Brain Injuries

The severity of brain injuries is measured on the Glasgow Coma Scale. Points are assigned based on a patient’s ability to respond to pain, speech, and commands. The lower the score, the greater the severity. This scale is commonly referenced by Chicago personal injury attorneys when discussing the severity of a patient’s injuries.

Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (Score 13-15)

The injury results in a loss of consciousness that lasts from a few seconds, to a few minutes. Often, patients will be dazed or confused following the causative event. These injuries may or may not show up during scans or testing.

Moderate Traumatic Brain Injury (Score 9-12)

Moderate injuries result in a loss of consciousness that ranges from a few minutes to several hours. Once awakened, patients will often experience a sense of confusion that can persist for days to weeks. Long-term damage can last for several months, or persist throughout a lifetime.

Severe Traumatic Brain Injury (Score 1-8)

Severe traumatic brain injuries are often the result of penetrating wounds or crushing blows. These injuries are life threatening even with immediate care and treatment. Surviving severe brain injuries can require extensive surgery, and long-term care whose outcome can be uncertain. Patients who survive severe brain injuries are at increased risk for epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other diseases that affect cognitive and motor functions.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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