The Hidden Injury: Impact of Undetected Traumatic Brain Injuries

A brain injury cannot be readily seen and may be difficult to diagnose.

They call traumatic brain injury (TBI) the silent epidemic because the effects of a brain injury cannot be readily seen and may be difficult to diagnose. As many as 85 percent of mild traumatic brain injuries – concussions – are undetected even by MRIs, one source says.

Because of the difficulties in recognizing a TBI, a brain injury can go undiagnosed, particularly if the symptoms are mild. This is time in which the injured individual does not receive needed medical treatment, and unseen damage to blood vessels could lead to blood clots and a stroke, or other problems.

1.7 million people in the U.S. suffer a brain injury.

The Brain Injury Association (BIA) of Georgia says TBI can happen anytime, anywhere to anyone, and that every year 1.7 million people in the U.S. suffer a brain injury.

In Georgia alone, according to the BIA of Georgia, about 150,000 people are living with permanent disabilities caused by brain injuries. Each year, approximately 50,000 Georgians suffer brain injuries, with more than 3,000 of these injuries expected to result in permanent disabilities.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention, which is in Atlanta, says that in 2010, 2.5 million TBIs occurred either as an isolated injury or along with other injuries. Further, 138 people in the United States die from injuries that include TBI every day, according to the CDC, which means TBI contributes to about 30 percent of all injury deaths.

What is Traumatic Brain Injury?

The TBI is an injury caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head, or a penetrating head injury, that disrupts the normal function of the brain. A TBI may cause a brief change in mental status or consciousness or be more severe and result in an extended period of unconsciousness or memory loss. Most TBIs are mild and are commonly known as concussions.

In most cases, a concussion only requires rest and over-the-counter pain relievers to treat the accompanying headache, and the injured person recovers in several days or weeks. But the Mayo Clinic explains that an individual with a mild traumatic brain injury requires monitoring closely for any new or worsening symptoms.

Follow-Up Doctor Appointments

An initial doctor’s examination is a must any time someone suffers a head injury. But some people who have a TBI do not see a doctor. There are several reasons a head injury is ignored that may in fact be a mild or moderate brain injury.

Mild TBI – Concussion – Becoming Better Understood

One reason some head injuries go untreated is ignorance of the potential effect of a TBI. This has become less of an issue thanks to coverage of concussions among NFL players and other athletes, and Traumatic brain injuries among members of the military. Caution about concussions in sports has spread to school and youth sports, including the Georgia High School Athletics Association, which calls for coaches, players, officials and administrators to be alert for signs of concussion in all athletes.

The CDC says that the rate of emergency room visits for sports and recreation-related injuries with a diagnosis of concussion or TBI rose 57 percent among patients age 19 or younger from 2001 to 2009. An estimated 248,418 children and teenagers were treated in ERs for sports and recreation-related injuries that included a diagnosis of concussion or TBI in 2009.

163,670 young athletes were seen in emergency rooms for concussions in 2012.

163,670 young athletes were seen in emergency rooms for concussions in 2012.

According to the Youth Sports Safety Alliance, 163,670 young athletes were seen in emergency rooms for concussions in 2012. This means every three minutes a child is seen in an emergency room for a sports-related concussion.

The Alliance says female athletes are more likely to report concussions than boys in sports, which points out another problem in TBI cases. Many boys and young men are still taught to not be hurt or to shake it off when they are hurt, and this can be extremely dangerous in cases of head injury.

Common Causes and Symptoms of TBI

It’s not all about sports injuries and athletes, of course. The CDC says the most common causes of TBI are:

  • Falls – 40.5%. Falls cause 66% of TBIs among people 65 years old and older.
  • Unintentional blunt trauma – 15.5%. A fourth of TBIs among children younger than 15 were caused by being struck by or against something in an accident.
  • Car and other motor vehicle accidents – 14.3%. Motor vehicle crashes are the second leading cause of TBI-related deaths (26%).
  • Assaults – 10.7%. About three-quarters (75%) of all assaults associated with TBI occur in persons 15 to 44 years old.
  • Other – 19%.

Unknown alludes to TBIs that are not promptly reported. By the time brain injury symptoms become so pronounced that the injured person is rushed to the hospital, they may be unable to explain how they were injured. Symptoms of a severe TBI, which may not occur immediately after the trauma that caused the injury, include:

  • Inability to awaken from sleepMemory loss
  • Profound confusion
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Inability to awaken from sleep
  • Coma and other disorders of consciousness.

A mild TBI may also cause:

  • Feeling depressed or anxious.Loss of coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • A state of being dazed, confused or disoriented
  • Memory or concentration problems
  • Mood changes or mood swings
  • Feeling depressed or anxious.

A person with these symptoms may be viewed as impaired by alcohol, drugs or another mental illness, instead of having a TBI.

Help for TBI Sufferers

The Brain Injury Association of Georgia recommends TBI sufferers carry a downloadable brain injury survivor ID card. The card describes common symptoms of brain injury and can be completed to include personal information and a designated emergency contact. The BIA suggests the user highlight their typical symptoms on the list provided or write in others not included.

Brain injury survivor ID card

“A person with a brain injury can carry this wallet card to help avoid misunderstandings with law enforcement, first responders and others,” the BIA says.

Over the long-term, a TBI may increase the risk of diseases that result in the gradual loss of brain functions, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, the Mayo Clinic says.

Meanwhile, despite the terrible damage a TBI can do, only 20 percent of persons with brain injury are able to get rehabilitation and other services needed to aid recovery because of high costs, insurance
gaps, widespread lack of knowledge about brain injury, and shortage of services, the BIA of Georgia says.

The catastrophic injury attorneys of Millar & Mixon in Atlanta help Georgians who have suffered TBI in car accidents or other accidents obtain compensation when they have been injured because of others’ negligence. If you have been diagnosed with a TBI, contact Millar & Mixon for a free meeting to discuss the legal options that may be open to you.