Traumatic Brain Injuries After a Car Accident

Due to the sudden force involved in a typical car accident, traumatic brain injuries are very common in vehicle collisions. The unfortunate reality is that the occurrence of serious traumatic brain injuries in car accidents are quite high. Several studies that have been conducted illustrate the prevalence of traumatic brain injuries in car accident. According to one particular study, it was discovered that traumatic brain injury accounts for one third of all injury deaths in the United States. Studies have further shown that for every one person who dies of a head injury, five are admitted to the hospital and an additional 26 require outpatient treatment. 

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A statewide study in Maryland found some clear and concerning results with respect to traumatic brain injuries. First, it considered the prevalence 0f Traumatic Brain Injuries depending on the point of impact in the car accident. It found the following:

Traumatic Brain Injuries Based on Location of Impact

The True Cost of Traumatic Brain Injuries

The true cost of Traumatic Brain Injuries caused by car accidents is near impossible to quantify – especially since they can cause so much intangible pain and suffering to car accident victims and their families. The simple fact is that there is no easy way to fully describe the true cost that traumatic brain injuries cause. However, some studies have attempted to quantify some baseline numbers related to the economic impacts of these horrible and debilitating injuries. A 1991 study estimated that the total cost of Traumatic Brain injuries in the United States was $37.8 billion dollars. This included $4.5 billion dollars in direct annual expenditures and $33.3 billion in indirect annual costs. 

Age and Traumatic Brain Injuries

Findings from a TBI study showed that the prevalence of these injuries are concentrated among a specific group of people – namely young, male drivers. A review of thousands of traumatic brain injuries in the State of Maryland found the following statistics:

Gender of Traumatic Brain Injury Victims
Age Range of Traumatic Brain Injury Victims
  • Gender. The study showed a statistically significant increase in traumatic brain injuries among men – especially when considering age. 
  • Age. An overwhelming amount of traumatic brain injuries (nearly 60 percent) occurred in the age range of 16-39 years old. A disproportionate amount were found in the 16-19 age range.
  • Impaired Driving. Impaired driving also plays a large role in the prevalence of traumatic brian injuries in car accident vicitms. Statistics show that drugs or alcohol were found or suspected in over half of all traumatic brain injury cases.  

Defining Traumatic Brain Injuries

The CDC has published criteria for determining when a head injury is categorized as a traumatic brain injury. This definition is as follows: 

as those with fracture of the vault or base of the skull, other and unqualified and multiple fractures of the skull, and intracranial injury, including concussion, contusion, laceration, and hemorrhage

Per the CDC, a TBI is caused by a sudden bump, blow or jolt to the head that has the effect of disrupting normal function of the brain. The severity of a TBI can vary greatly from a “mild” TBI which results in a brief and temporary change in mental status to an extended period of unconsciousness and loss of memory.  In general, mild TBI’s are commonly referred to as concussions

Causes of Traumatic Brain Injuries

Every year in the United States, there are over 2.8 million TBI-related emergency department visits, hospitalizations and deaths. over the eight years between 2006 and 2014, the CDC found that TBI-related hospitalizations increased by a staggering 54%. So what are the leading causes of Traumatic Brain injuries. 

  • Falls. Falls are among the leading causes of TBIs in the U.S – accounting for almost half (48%) of all emergency department visits. Falls disproportionately effect elderly populations from 65 years and older. 
  • Motor Vehicle Crashes. Unsurprisingly, the second biggest cause of traumatic brain injuries in the U.S. are car accidents. Car accidents in the U.S. account for more than 20% of all Traumatic Brain Injury cases. 
  • Foreign Objects. The third most common cause of traumatic brain injuries is being struck by or against a foreign object – accounting for about 17% of all TBIs reported. 

Airbags and Traumatic Brain Injuries

The prevalence and severity of Traumatic Brain Injuries begs the question – how can we prevent these horrible injuries from occurring. While many factors – such as distracted or impaired driving of other drivers – are largely out of victim’s control, some safety features in cars can help to mitigate some of these injuries. One of the main ways to limit the effect of these injuries the proliferation of airbags. In general, an airbag can help to reduce the whiplash effect of the head in a frontal crash – which in theory – allows for a more controlled deceleration of the brain. 

In a car accident situation, the human body has evolved a natural behavior that braces or tenses muscles during a collision. It’s estimated that more that 50% of vehicle occupants tense or brace prior to a collision. The main problem with this as it relates to traumatic brain injuries is that the rapid deceleration of the body in a car accident caused the brain to hit the inside of the skull – often causing significant trauma. While airbags can mitigate this to an extent – they only serve to lessen to impact, not avoid it entirely. It’s important to understand the limits of airbags in preventing Traumatic Brain Injuries. 28% of all serious injuries and deaths are sustained in lateral car crashes. In general, airbags do not deploy in these types of crashes. In these circumstances, seat belts can help provide some restraint for the vehicle occupant, but can have the effect of increasing the deceleration on the brain and body. 

Concussions After a Car Accident

A comparatively mild Traumatic Brain Injury is commonly referred to as a concussion. These injuries are caused by a sudden impact to the head or a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to rapidly move back and forth. This sudden impact. – especially with the inside of the skull – often causes changes to the chemical composition of the brain and damages brain cells. While medical providers will often refer to concussions as “mild” – mostly due to the fact that they are not often life-threatening – the effects of a concussion can be extremely serious. A concussion, in its simplest terms, is a change to how the brain functions. As one Of the most important organs in our body, even a small change can have significant impacts on somebody’s life. Certain populations are at greater risk for concussions – namely the age demographic between 16-21 years of age. This is particularly serious, since it can have developmental effects on a young person’s growth.  

Concussion Signs and Syptoms

It used to be the case that, without a loss of consciousness, medical providers were hesitant to diagnose a concussion. However, advances in medicine has helped to make sense of how less obvious effects can still mean a concussion is present. In general, the symptoms and signs of a concussion are as follows:

  • Lack of memory recall
  • Appearing to be dazed or stunned
  • Forgetfulness or confusion
  • Clumsy movement
  • The inability to answer questions quickly or succinctly 
  • Mood, behavior or personality changes
  • Headaches or a sense of “pressure” in the head
  • Nausea or Vomiting
  • Balance problems, dizziness or vertigo
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Feelings of sluggishness

In general, these signs and symptoms will appear shortly after the injury occurs. However some people don’t notice at first how bad the symptoms are. This can take some people hours or even days to realize. Many victims might feel a little confused and dazed after a car accident only to start becoming extremely forgetful hours or days later. If you or a loved one suspect that a concussion occurred, it’s important to get medical treatment right away. 

Treatment for Traumatic Brain Injuries

Depending on the severity of the traumatic brain injury, the course of treatment can vary significantly. However, it’s important to remember that without treatment, traumatic brain injuries can rapidly worsen. A medical provider will use a 15-test called the Glasgow coma scale to assess the initial severity of a Traumatic brain injury. This test will check a persons ability to follow directions and move extremities after a brain injury causing an accident. Medical providers will also use CT scans and MRI’s to create detailed views of the brain and surrounding tissue and bone. Lastly an intercranial pressure monitor can be used to determine if there is extreme or unusual swelling of the tissues of the brain. Depending on the severity of the Trumatic brain injury, treatment can take one of a number of forms. 

  • Mild Traumatic Brain Injuries. In most circumstances, a mild Traumatic brain injury will require no further treatment beyond rest and over-the-counter pain relievers. However it’s important to be monitored closely by medical professionals to ensure that there is no worsening of symptoms. Even with a mild brain injury, it’s important to follow doctor’s orders regarding work restrictions and the like. 

  • Moderate Traumatic Brain Injuries. For more moderate traumatic brain injuries the focus is on ensuring that injured victims have enough oxygen and blood supply to prevent further injury to the head or neck. This often requires treatment in the emergency room or other intensive care units. 

  • Severe Traumatic Brain Injuries. Instances of severe Trumatic brain injuries, more invasive interventions are often necessary. These can include surgery and that minimizing additional damage to brain tissues. Surgery is most often used to remove clotting blood, repair skull fractures, stop bleeding in the brain, 

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