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Severe brain injury FAQs

What is a severe brain injury?

While a lot of brain injuries are mild, and their symptoms temporary, some brain injuries are categorised as severe; causing long term or life-long injuries.

A brain injury is classed as severe if it causes significant neurological injury and physiological changes to the brain.

What are the main kinds of severe brain injury?

The four kinds of injury which cause serious trauma to the brain are as follows:

  • Closed head injuries – An injury is caused by brain tissue impacting on the inside of the skull; causing tissue damage, bleeding, intra-cranial pressure and neurochemical changes.

  • Penetrating injuries – An open fracture of the skull or an entry of a foreign object through the skull and into the brain resulting in catastrophic damage to brain neurons.

  • Anoxic injuries – An injury caused by the lack of oxygen reaching the brain, resulting in the death of brain cells; and causing subsequent effects to the rest of the brain and body.

  • Toxic injuries – A brain injury caused by exposure to toxic chemical agents which can damage or kill brain cells.

How is a brain injury classified as mild, moderate or severe?

The 3 common levels of brain injury are mild, moderate and severe; and the classification is determined by the extent of the damage caused to the brain and the effects of the injury on other systems in the body.

Medical professionals use the Glasgow Coma Scale to rate the severity of a brain injury and determine the responsiveness of a brain injury patient in the aftermath of a traumatic accident. A low Glasgow Coma Scale grade is classified as a severe brain injury.

The Glasow Outcome Scale is also used during brain injury rehabilitation to assess the likelihood of a patient regaining some or all of their independence, post brain injury.

It is only during rehabilitation, rather than medical treatment that the full extent of a brain injury can be determined. Another system used is the Rancho Los Amigos Scale, which assesses consciousness, responsiveness and reception.

What are the clinical features of a severe brain injury?

The medical features of a severe brain injury include:

  • Difficulty with respiration and other key body functions

  • Reduced ability to respond to various stimuli

  • Increased intra-cranial pressure or build up of fluid

  • Muscle tone alteration

How common are acquired brain injuries?

Here in the UK, around 1 million people are estimated to be living with a long term brain injury. More than 500 in every 100,000 people will suffer a severe brain injury and, in fact, it is estimated that another person is admitted to hospital with a acquired brain injury every 90 seconds.

Could a seat belt or airbag prevent a brain injury?

Yes, they certainly could. In car safety measures reduce the severity of a head injury and save lives in the process. Cycling helmets are also extremely important and even when a brain injury cannot be avoided entirely, a person may live after an accident in which they might otherwise have died.

Of course, as safety measures have improved, so have survival rates. In turn, the number of brain injuries has increased.

How are people affected by severe brain injury?

Severe brain injuries cause cognitive, psychological and physiological changes; along with emotional and even behavioural changes. Brain injuries can cause certain deficits which affect the subject in a specific way; and so the part of the brain which is injured affects the short and long term symptoms that the patient experiences.

Often, severe brain injuries affect multiple areas within the complex brain system and therefore cause multiple disabilities. Physical functions such as walking or simply standing can be disrupted, while mental functions can be affected in the same way, leading to memory loss or language issues.

Even a patient’s personality can be forever altered.

What happens to children with brain injuries?

Children actually have a slight advantage on adults with severe brain injuries since their brains are more attuned to training and teaching functionality to neurons. But brain injuries can create learning difficulties for children.

Reintegration into school and community can be difficult due to psychological or behavioural problems brought on by the condition. In-school rehabilitation may be required.

Some effects of a brain injury may not become apparent until many years after the incident since the section of the brain affected was not yet in use by the child.

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