The psychological, behavioral and cognitive results of brain injuries can be so severe or so frightening that they may overshadow the medical aspects. Physically, the brain is unlike other parts of the body; once brain tissue is destroyed, it cannot grow back and perform the same functions that it once did. And because the brain is the body's control center, responsible for everything from keeping the heart beating to intellectual skills, destroying brain tissue means destroying the patient's ability to perform those functions normally, or at all. That's why brain injuries are often so severe and catastrophic. What functions are lost depends on which parts of the brain are damaged; scientists still don't completely understand this, but can make general predictions that will be tested as the patient recovers.
Brain function can be destroyed in two ways. One is directly: Something kills the brain's cells. This can be the result of a penetrating wound that literally destroys the flesh, but it doesn't have to be; lack of oxygen can kill brain cells, and so can a very hard blow. The other way the brain can take damage is indirectly, through the neurons that transmit messages between brain cells. The brain itself may still work, but without a way to communicate its orders, it cannot do its job.
A brain injury can also cause damage in several secondary ways. If blood vessels are broken during the accident, it can cause a contusion, which is the medical term for an ordinary bruise. A contusion that causes significant swelling can destroy more brain tissue by pressing it against the skull. If the bleeding inside the skull is severe enough, blood may build up inside the skull, causing a hematoma, a blood blister that also puts pressure on the brain. In both cases, the patient may need surgery to relieve the pressure. And broken blood vessels can also deprive the brain of oxygen, by taking away oxygen-carrying blood from the parts of the brain beyond where the vessels broke. Lack of oxygen, called anoxia or hypoxia by doctors, can kill brain cells in minutes. In addition to these, a head injury that breaks the skull puts the patient at risk for further brain damage from jagged pieces of bone.
Many people are familiar with the term "concussion," which is a type of traumatic brain injury. Doctors define concussions as blows to the brain that do not cause bleeding or a penetrating wound, but may cause loss of consciousness. Even a blow to another part of the body that causes a sudden jerk of the head, like whiplash, can cause a concussion. Concussion is a mild form of brain injury, but it can still have permanent results, even in patients who quickly shake off their symptoms. Post-concussion syndrome is the name for a set of head injury symptoms that continue for more than 72 hours after a concussion, including headaches, nausea, dizziness, confusion and sensitivity to light and sound. And those who sustain more than one concussion within a few weeks, or who sustain repeated concussions, are at risk for more serious symptoms, because the cumulative effect of repeated brain injuries is stronger than the sum of the individual injuries.
Physicians and surgeons can repair most of the physical damage from a brain injury, such as broken bones and torn flesh. The damage can heal will heal within a few months. But once patients recover physical health, they must turn to people who specialize in the brain -- neurologists, psychiatrists and therapists. And that treatment may take years, sometimes requiring expensive residential programs or daily visits from home care specialists. If you or someone you care about sustained a brain injury because of another person's carelessness, you should speak with the experienced New York head injury attorneys at Wingate, Russotti, Shapiro, Moses & Halperin, LLP as soon as possible. Call (212) 986-7353 for a free consultation.