Why head injury awareness matters

As hospital executives, doctors and healthcare workers, we all have a duty to promote the fact that March is National Brain Injury Awareness Month.

As a neurosurgeon, I never forget, simply because head injuries are a large part of my practice and something I see every day. This issue matters because several aspects touch your lives in ways you probably don’t even realize. I’ll attempt to provide some inferences for you to consider.

The purpose of Brain Injury Awareness Month is to demonstrate the commitment to traumatic brain injury, or TBI, awareness, and to educate and provide resources about brain injuries to service members, veterans, family members and health care professionals. For the next three years (2018-2020), the Brain Injury Alliance of America’s campaign theme, #ChangeYourMind, will provide a platform for educating the public about the incidence of brain injury and the needs of people with brain injuries and how to support their families. The campaign also yearns to de-stigmatize the injury, empower those who have survived and promote the many types of support that are available.

If you want statistics, consider this: Each year an estimated 2.5 million children and adults in the U.S. sustain a TBI, and another 795,000 individuals sustain an acquired brain injury, or ABI, from nontraumatic causes. It’s also estimated that over 12 million Americans are living with some form of a brain injury.

Why does head injury awareness matter? Because it’s likely closer to affecting you than you think. The leading cause of TBIs is falls. How many of us directly know someone who has suffered an injury of this nature due to one? Perhaps an elderly relative? A TBI can have multiple lasting effects for the victim, including a state of being dazed, headaches, fuzzy or blurred vision, nausea, dizziness, sensitivity to light, balance problems, impaired thinking, and memory and emotional functioning. Or simply feeling tired or having no energy. And a recent study conducted by researchers from Umea University in Sweden found a direct link to increased risk of dementia.

Speaking of studies, there is some very interesting recent research coming to light about TBIs and a link to non-normative and even violent behavior. Brain specialists from Oxford, Exeter, Manchester, Glasgow, Sheffield and the Centre for Mental Health believe that more than half of criminals may have head injuries of some degree. They’ve seemingly found that neural injuries, which alter the structure in parts of the brain responsible for self-regulation, impulse control and pro-social behavior, may result in an increased risk of violence and aggressive behavior.

In raising awareness for these types of head injuries, what the public really needs to know is that the symptoms involved are neither uniform nor specific. We’re all at risk, even in routine activities. Most people don’t know that bicycling is one of the most common causes of concussions. Any suspected head injury should be checked out by a medical professional. The short and long-term consequences of head injuries and proper healing are just too high to ignore.

Early detection and identification are the keys to preventing further damage from concussions. If a patient begins to show early signs or symptoms of a concussion, they should take immediate corrective measures and be seen by a medical professional. There are no surgical treatments for concussions so prevention is extremely important.

Each year we continue to make technological and medical advances that augment the possibilities of earlier brain injury detection, treatment and support. Just last month, the Food and Drug Administration approved a breakthrough blood test that can help detect concussions in adults. The Brain Trauma Indicator test can now assess mild traumatic brain injury without the risk of radiation that comes with a traditional CT scan.

In closing, perhaps the best takeaway for Brain Injury Awareness Month is both education and prevention. This includes preparation for things we do in our everyday lives. Common recreational activities—especially sports-related—should always include proper equipment and protection for the head. Doing our best to avoid dangerous, extreme or high-risk activities is obviously advisable.

Early detection and a proper treatment regimen can go a long way toward avoiding a more severe outcome. Typically the treatment regimen will include an unobtrusive rest environment, low exposure to light and decreased stressors. But the most important factor is simply time. The brain must have time to heal properly because the risk of re-injury is such a significant factor during the recovery process.

For the month of March, we should all do our part to raise awareness of this important topic. Let’s all work together to #ChangeYourMind.

About the Author
Dr. Jagannathan is a board-certified neurosurgeon specializing in cranial and spinal surgery with a key focus on utilizing the latest minimally invasive techniques. He is the owner of Jagannathan Neurosurgery, comprised of four clinical locations serving southeast, central and northern Michigan. He completed his neurosurgical training at the University of Virginia and Wayne State University, receiving advanced training in both neurosurgery and orthopedic spine surgery.

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