Understanding traumatic brain injuries

In recent years, there’s been an emergence of research related to the effects of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) on U.S. athletes. However, TBIs impact many individuals beyond professional sports.

In fact, more than five million Americans are living with a TBI-related disability, which can have devastating impacts on an individual’s quality of life.

“Most TBIs that occur each year are mild, commonly called concussions,” said Dr. Claudia Robertson, professor of neurosurgery at Baylor College of Medicine. “Anyone can become a victim of TBI, especially children and older adults.”

TBI symptoms and when to seek care

While falls are the leading cause of TBIs, they also occur from sports injuries and car accidents. The severity of a TBI can range from mild (a limited change in consciousness or cognition) to severe (an extended period of unconsciousness or memory loss after the injury).

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Symptoms of mild TBI include:

  • Concentration issues or memory loss
  • Sensitivity to sound or light
  • Mood swings
  • Loss of consciousness for a few seconds to a few minutes

Symptoms of moderate or severe TBI include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Repeated vomiting or nausea
  • Unusual behavior or combativeness
  • Loss of consciousness from several minutes to hours

Any individual who suffers an injury or blow to the head should seek immediate medical attention to be assessed for TBI.

“There are no known treatments that improve the outcome from TBI,” Robertson said. “For mild TBI, treatment is directed at any symptoms that are present. With severe TBI, the goal of treatment is to try to prevent any additional injury from occurring.”

What can be done to prevent TBIs? 

While there is no way to guarantee that you or a loved one won’t be affected by a TBI, the CDC recommends precautions to reduce risk, including:

  • Making living areas safer for seniors by removing trip hazards
  • Wearing appropriate protective headgear while skiing, riding a bicycle, motorcycle or horse
  • Using an age-appropriate child safety seat
  • Making living areas safer for children by installing safety gates at top and bottom of stairs
  • Wearing a seat belt while riding or driving in a car
TBI study

Robertson is also a researcher involved in the Brain Oxygen Optimization in Severe TBI, Phase 3 (BOOST3) study, which involves patients in emergency care who have been diagnosed with a TBI.

“BOOST3 is a study to learn if either of two strategies for monitoring and treating patients with TBI in the intensive care unit is more likely to help them get better,” she said.

Emergency care for a patient with severe TBI must start quickly and there may not be enough time to locate the patient’s family member or legal representative about the study. In this situation, a patient with severe TBI might be enrolled in this study without his or her family member or representative providing consent.

“This is called Exception from Informed Consent (EFIC) for emergency research,” Robertson said.  “Once the family member or legal representative is located, they will be asked to give their permission for the patient with severe TBI to continue in the study.”

Before researchers can conduct a study using EFIC, they must provide information about the study to the community. Interested in giving researchers your feedback about TBIs? Learn more and take the survey.

-By Alexandria Bland, communications coordinator with the Departments of Neurology and Neurosurgery at Baylor

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