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Brain Injury: Not Just Another Headache

More than 500,000 Coloradoans are living with a brain injury. A brain injury is damage to the

brain from an internal event or external force affecting a person’s physical and mental abilities. Every brain injury is different, and people will experience symptoms differently.

While Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is what we tend to think of when we hear of a brain injury, a

Non-Traumatic Brain Injury (nTBI) can be just as devastating to normal functioning and is defined

as an “internal event.” Non-Traumatic refers to the lack of external force involved in the brain injury, not to its effects on life and function. Among the causes that we might be familiar with are stroke

or cardiac arrest, however, nTBI can be the result of a virus, oxygen deprivation, tumors, and even toxic exposure. While TBI typically affects a concentrated area of the brain because it is caused

by an external force making contact with the skull, nTBI has the potential to spread to all areas of

the brain.

TBI damage is caused by external forces such as a blow or jolt to the head sustained in car accidents, acts of violence, or during extreme sports. Falls are the most common cause of TBI,

with older adults being at higher risk. Such an event may seem mild at the time, but effects may appear days or weeks later. Additionally, if minor injuries happen repeatedly, the cumulative effect can be long-term damage. Symptoms of an external injury can range from a brief change in

mental awareness or consciousness to more severe like amnesia or long-term problems with

independent function.

Brain injuries can affect people physically, emotionally, and/or behaviorally. They can happen at any stage of life and effects may be short or long-term. Some of the consequences of a brain injury include, but are not limited to:

· Loss of cognitive functions like memory, attention, and language.

· Loss of sensations like vision, hearing, and body awareness.

· Loss of physical functions such as balance, coordination, and swallowing.

· Emotional and personality changes including irritability, anger, and impulse control.

A concussion is also a brain injury, even though it might be referred to as a “mild” traumatic

brain injury. Just because it is mild, doesn’t mean it can be ignored. According to the Brain Injury Association of America, after sustaining a concussion it is very important to avoid any activity

that places one at risk of sustaining another concussion. Most students and athletes can expect symptoms to diminish in 2-3 weeks if allowed to rest properly and only gradually return

to activities.

Concussion symptoms include dizziness, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting, and ringing in the ears. Seek medical attention when the injured person is confused, has continued nausea and vomiting, has seizures, cannot be wakened, one pupil is larger than the other, or loses consciousness.

There are ways to reduce the chances of sustaining a brain injury while engaging in sports and recreational activities, as well as normal life. Helmets or head protection have become required in most organized sports. Head protection should also be used during activities like skiing and bicycle riding, even at low-impact levels. Don’t be afraid to tell a coach or companion if you get hit in the head; there has been a long-term culture of “shaking it off” when we get hurt, which we need to dispel. Keep brain safety at the forefront of any activity.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of TBI-related death for youth and young adults. Seatbelts worn in a vehicle will minimize the chances of hitting the head or having the body

jolted in such a way to impact the brain. Correct use of car seats and booster seats will protect children under 12. If you need a car seat inspection, please contact NCHD at 877-795-0646 to

make an appointment.

As you age, mitigate your risk of falls that can cause TBI’s by staying active, doing strength and balance exercises, and making sure you have proper vision correction. Make sure there is adequate light to see, be aware of how medications affect you, and wear comfortable and appropriate shoes for the environment. You may also consider removing throw rugs as these can be a trip hazard.

If you have sustained a brain injury and need resources, or would like to learn more about this issue, please visit

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