When it comes to injuries that affect the brain, spine, and their connective nerves, the potential for those injuries to cause serious, lifelong conditions are high. These types of injuries, called neurological injuries, can cause both short and long-term damage, and if the injury is severe enough, could potentially change an injured person’s life forever.
There are hundreds of different kinds of neurological disorders that affect the brain, as well as other parts of the body. Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, and brain tumors are just a few of the more than 600 types of neurological disorders and conditions. Injuries that occur because of accidents, trauma, abuse, birth injuries, and genetic diseases can also have lasting effects on the brain and brain function.
It can be difficult and expensive to treat neurological injuries and disorders, and there are often barriers to receiving adequate care. It can be hard for some patients to see a neurologist—the doctor who specializes in disorders of the brain and spine—for insurance reasons, financial reasons, or because the patient lives in a rural area and must travel long distances to receive care.
When neurological injuries are the result of an accident or other factors outside the control of the injured person, the resulting injuries and medical care can be especially burdensome to them and their loved ones. Accidents like slip and falls, birth injuries, and car accidents can occur because of the negligence of another person or business, including medical malpractice on the part of the doctor or healthcare facility.
The advocacy organization Brain Injury Association of America, which helps people who have suffered brain injuries through medical research and treatment, describes the outcomes of traumatic brain injury as “unpredictable.”
“Brain injury is unpredictable in its consequences. Brain injury affects who we are and the way we think, act and feel. It can change everything about us in a matter of seconds.” —Brain Injury Association of America
Individuals who were injured as a result of potential negligence or medical malpractice may wish to take legal action against the party responsible for their injuries. Personal injury lawsuits or medical malpractice lawsuits help injured people recover damages they incurred because of their injuries, such as lost wages and the cost of past and future medical care. Pursuing this type of litigation also gives injured people the chance to hold the responsible party accountable for their actions. Contact an experienced Maryland neurological injury lawyer or attorney today to see if you qualify for a personal injury claim.
Neurological Injury Definition
Neurological injuries are injuries to the brain, spine, or nerves that connect them. There are more than 600 different types of neurological disorders that can affect the brain and spine, including Parkinson disease, brain tumors, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis (MS), and more. Sometimes these disorders are hereditary and passed down from parent to child.
Other neurological injuries can happen as a result of external trauma, such as a blow to the head or other head or neck injury. Injuries like these can cause symptoms like blurred vision or loss of consciousness. If severe, the injury can land a person in a vegetative state, in which a person shows no sign of awareness. Depending on the severity of the injury, these neurological injuries can cause lifelong symptoms, including brain damage and paralysis.
Neurological injuries are often not easily treated. Broken bones can be set in a cast, but injuries to the brain may require intense, specialized treatment that can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills. Treatment of neurological injuries or disorders may need surgery, physical therapy, behavioral psychology, and prescription medications.
Types of Severe Neurological Injuries
There are several hundred different types of neurological disorders, and each may present themselves in different ways and to varying degrees. These types of disorders can be caused by many reasons, but they all affect the brain, spine, or nervous systems in some way.
Some neurological disorders include:
- Brain Aneurysm
- Brain Tumors
- Memory Disorders
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
- Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Peripheral Neuropathy
- Spinal Cord Tumor
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) can sometimes cause symptoms of these disorders, such as headaches or seizures. If severe enough, an injury to the brain may also lead to moderate to severe brain damage, skull fracture, or decreased brain function. Signs and symptoms of these injuries may take several days or weeks to present.
Neurological Injury Symptoms
Depending on the severity of the injury and the part of the body affected, the signs and symptoms of neurological injuries vary. The National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke recommends anyone with symptoms or signs of TBI to seek immediate medical attention following a traumatic injury.
The symptoms of TBI may be physical or mental. Mild traumatic brain injury can cause symptoms such as headaches, confusion, and nausea, while severe traumatic brain injury may cause more severe symptoms like loss of consciousness, vomiting, convulsions, or seizures. It is crucial to seek medical treatment right away, even if the symptoms appear to be mild. Brain injuries can lead to more severe complications if not treated, and may also lead to death.
The following are potential signs and symptoms of mild traumatic brain injury:
- Loss Of Consciousness For A Few Seconds To A Few Minutes
- Being Dazed, Confused, Or Disoriented
- Nausea Or Vomiting
- Fatigue Or Drowsiness
- Problems With Speech
- Difficulty Sleeping Or Sleeping More Than Usual
- Dizziness Or Loss Of Balance
- Blurred Vision, Ringing In The Ears, A Bad Taste In The Mouth, Or Changes In The Ability To Smell
- Sensitivity To Light Or Sound
- Memory Or Concentration Problems
- Mood Changes Or Mood Swings
- Feeling Depressed Or Anxious
A person with moderate to severe traumatic brain injury may have some of the same symptoms of mild injury, but may also experience the following:
- Loss Of Consciousness From Several Minutes To Hours
- Persistent Headache Or Headache That Worsens
- Repeated Vomiting Or Nausea
- Convulsions Or Seizures
- Dilation Of One Or Both Pupils Of The Eyes
- Clear Fluids Draining From The Nose Or Ears
- Inability To Awaken From Sleep
- Weakness Or Numbness In Fingers And Toes
- Loss Of Coordination
- Profound Confusion
- Agitation, Combativeness Or Other Unusual Behavior
- Slurred Speech
- Coma And Other Disorders Of Consciousness
Neurological Injuries and Their Causes
There are many different causes of neurological injuries. Some neurological disorders may be the result of genetics, infection, or other lifestyle-related causes, while injuries to the brain and spine may be caused by trauma or accidents.
The following are common causes of neurological injuries.
Falls – One of the most common causes of traumatic brain injury, falls can happen from a bed, ladder, downstairs, in the bath, and from everyday activities. Falls are frequent especially in older adults and young children.
Car Accidents – Other common causes of traumatic brain injury are accidents involving cars, motorcycles, and bicycles. Pedestrians involved in these types of accidents are also at risk for TBI.
Domestic and other violence – Domestic violence, child abuse, gunshot wounds, and other violent assaults are also common causes of traumatic brain injury.
Sports-related injuries – Sports are often involved in traumatic brain injuries, especially contact or extreme sports. Football, soccer, boxing, hockey, lacrosse, and other high-impact sports put participants at risk for head injuries.
Combat injuries – Active-duty military personnel are commonly at risk for traumatic brain injury from combat injuries, including from explosive blasts, penetrating wounds, blows to the head, falls, or bodily collisions.
Diagnosis & Treatment of Neurological Disorder
Head injuries can often be serious and need to be treated by a healthcare professional right away, as complications can worsen if treatment is delayed. To assess the severity of a head injury, doctors use the Glasgow Coma Scale—a 15-point test that checks a person’s ability to follow directions and move their eyes and limbs. The scale scores a person’s abilities from 3 to 15, with a higher score indicating a less severe injury. The coherence of a person’s speech can also be an important indicator of how severe the brain injury may be.
If another person witnesses the injury, they may be able to provide critical information to doctors that can be used during diagnosis. Answers to the following questions may help doctors determine the severity of a traumatic brain injury:
- How Did The Injury Happen?
- Did The Injured Person Lose Consciousness? If So, How Long Was The Person Unconscious?
- Were There Any Changes In Alertness, Speaking, Coordination, Or Other Possible Signs Of Injury?
- Where Did The Person Get Injured? What Part Of The Body Or Head Was Struck?
- With How Much Force Was The Person Struck? What Hit The Person’s Head? Did They Fall From A Height Or Were They Thrown From A Vehicle?
- Was The Person’s Body Whipped Around Or Jarred?
Diagnosis: Imaging Tests
Doctors use many different tests to assess a person’s potential head injury. These tests give doctors a clear picture of the brain to see where the trauma happened and the severity of the injury.
CT scan – short for “computerized technology,” CT scans are an essential test used by doctors to create detailed views of the brain. CT scans are typically the first test performed in the emergency room when a patient is brought in for suspected traumatic brain injury. The scans use a series of x-rays to create detailed images of the brain. They can show fractures in the skull and evidence of bleeding, blood clots, bruising, and brain swelling.
MRI – an MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, uses powerful radio waves and magnets to create detailed images of the brain. MRIs are usually performed after a person’s condition has stabilized or if their symptoms do not improve following the injury.
Intracranial pressure monitor – used by doctors to monitor brain tissue swelling following traumatic injury, intracranial pressure monitors rely on probes in the skull to keep an eye on the pressure. TBI can cause dangerous tissue swelling that increases the pressure inside the skull, leaving patients susceptible to further brain damage.
Treating neurological injuries depends mostly on the severity of the injuries. If injuries are mild, patients will usually be advised to rest and take over-the-counter pain medications for symptoms like headaches. Even patients with very mild injuries should be monitored closely for worsening symptoms or for new signs that may appear. Their doctor may ask them to come in for a follow-up visit as part of their treatment plan.
Patients with signs of traumatic brain injury may need to stop working until their symptoms resolve. This could mean limiting physical and cognitive activities while the patient heals. Their doctor will let them know when it is OK to return to work, school, and other recreational activities.
Immediate Treatment Following an Injury
When it comes to moderate and severe head injuries, it is essential to seek emergency medical care immediately following the injury. This will help prevent injuries from progressing further. Doctors and other emergency room personnel will make sure the patient has adequate oxygen and blood supplies, maintain blood pressure, and prevent further injury to the head and neck by stabilizing the patient.
If there are other injuries in addition to traumatic brain injury, doctors and emergency room staff will also treat those injuries. This usually focuses on minimizing damage from inflammation, bleeding, or reduced oxygen supply to the brain.
Neurological Treatment Options
There are different treatment options that doctors may use to treat brain injury. These can include medications and surgeries.
Medication – There are many different medications doctors use to treat symptoms of neurological injuries. These medications can prevent or limit further damage to the brain and include:
Diuretics – These can help reduce the amount of fluid in tissues and increase urination. When given intravenously (through an IV), they can help reduce pressure inside the brain as well.
Anti-seizure drugs – A person who has suffered moderate to severe traumatic brain injury is at an increased risk for seizures. This is true especially during the first week following the injury. Seizures can cause further damage to the brain; therefore, it is vital to prevent seizures from happening by administering anti-seizure drugs.
Coma-inducing drugs – If a patient’s injuries are severe enough, doctors may use drugs that intentionally put the patient into a temporary coma. While in a coma, the brain needs less oxygen to function, and it can be especially beneficial to patients whose blood vessels were compressed during the injury and are unable to supply enough nutrients and oxygen to brain cells.
Surgery – Emergency surgery may help prevent additional damage to brain tissue following an injury. Many neurological injury conditions warrant the need for surgery, including:
Removing Blood Clots.
Following an injury, bleeding may occur outside or within the brain that then collects in clots (also called hematomas) and puts pressure on the brain and damages tissues. Surgery can remove those clots and prevent additional damage.
Repairing Fractures In The Skull.
Skull fractures can happen as a result of a blow to the head or other traumatic injuries, but surgery may repair those fractures and remove pieces of skull in the brain.
Bleeding In The Brain.
Head injuries can cause bleeding in the brain, and surgery may be necessary to stop it.
Opening A “Window” In The Skull.
Doctors may choose to relieve pressure in the brain if that pressure builds to a dangerous degree. Doctors do this by draining the cerebral spinal fluid that has built up as a result of swelling, or by creating a “window” in the skull that provides more room for swollen tissues.
Rehabilitation After Neurological Injury
It may be necessary for a patient to relearn basic skills like walking and talking after suffering a severe traumatic brain injury. This is done through rehabilitation, and most people who have experienced significant brain injury will require some level of rehab. The goal of rehab is to improve a patient’s abilities enough for them to perform daily activities on their own or without significant support.
The kind and length of rehabilitation usually depend on the severity of a patient’s injuries and the area of the brain that was injured. Rehabilitation usually begins in the hospital and continues in an inpatient rehab center or at home through outpatient services.
Different specialists will be involved in a patient’s recovery and can include psychiatrists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech and language pathologists, neuropsychologists, social workers or case managers, rehabilitation nurses, traumatic brain injury nurse specialists, recreational therapists, and vocational counselors.
Patients may work with an entire team of specialists as they journey through their recovery.
Call a Maryland neurological injury lawyer for more information.
University of California, San Francisco Health. “Neurological Disorders.” Accessed on Oct. 8, 2018: https://www.ucsfhealth.org/conditions/neurological_disorders/ Mayo Clinic. “Traumatic Brain Injury.” Accessed Oct. 8, 2018: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/traumatic-brain-injury/symptoms-causes/syc-20378557 American Addiction Centers. “Neurological Problem Symptoms, Causes and Effects.” Accessed Oct. 8, 2018: https://www.psychguides.com/guides/neurological-problem-symptoms-causes-and-effects/ Brain Injury Association of America. “Brain Injury Basics.” Accessed Oct. 21, 2018: https://www.biausa.org/brain-injury/about-brain-injury/basics National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. “Traumatic Brain Injury Information Page.” Accessed Oct. 21, 2018: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Traumatic-Brain-Injury-Information-Page