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Brain Damage

Brain damage is destruction or degeneration of brain cells that impairs healthy brain development and function. Some people are born with brain damage (congenital brain damage). Others sustain brain damage from physical trauma, or even nonimpact injuries; this is known as non-congenital or acquired brain damage.

Traumatic brain injuries from car accidents and other incidents are a leading cause of brain damage. If you have cause to believe that you or someone you know suffered brain damage due to someone else's reckless driving or other negligent behavior, a personal injury attorney may be able to help you receive compensation.

Congenital and Non-Congenital Brain Damage

Congenital Brain Damage. Congenital brain damage develops during fetal growth and can be caused by a variety of factors, including genetic abnormalities, infections, toxins or other prenatal traumatic events. These issues can disrupt prenatal brain development, which in turn leads to functional problems.

Congenital brain damage can cause life-long problems with physical functions (walking, eating, bathing) and cognitive functions (reading, writing, object identification). A few examples of conditions caused by congenital brain damage are:

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Down syndrome
  • Epilepsy
  • Autism
  • Reading difficulties
  • Behavior and language disorders

Non-Congenital (Acquired) Brain Damage. Acquired brain damage can occur as a result of a physical disorder or a trauma to the head that impairs brain function. Causes of acquired brain damage include disease, poisoning, substance abuse, car accidents and assaults. Conditions associated with acquired brain damage include Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and dementia.

One of the most common causes of non-congenital brain damage is traumatic brain injury, or brain injury sustained from a sudden, external force that disrupts or alters normal brain function. Traumatic brain injury is usually caused by impact, violent shaking or both. This can be the result of a sudden blow to the head, which causes the brain to collide violently with the inside of the skull. In other instances, an object, such as a bullet, may penetrate brain tissue and cause traumatic brain injury. Non-traumatic acquired brain injury can be caused by a stroke or other condition leading to an insufficient supply of oxygen to the brain. Any of these events can destroy precious brain cells, thereby disrupting normal emotional, sensory and cognitive behaviors.

Signs of Brain Damage

Brain damage symptoms depend on the cause of the damage. Non-congenital brain damage (including damage caused by traumatic brain injuries) can have a variety of initial and secondary symptoms, while congenital brain damage symptoms many times remain the same.

Traumatic brain injury patients may have brain damage if they have initial symptoms such as:

  • Persistent headache
  • Seizures
  • Inability to awake from sleep
  • Slurred speech
  • Numbness in the extremities
  • Loss of coordination
  • Anisocoria (different sized pupils)

In addition, traumatic brain injury patients may experience secondary symptoms weeks, months, or years after the incident. These symptoms can include:

  • Slowed thinking
  • Inattention
  • Impaired memory
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Disturbed sleep

Small children with traumatic brain injury may show symptoms such as persistent crying, refusal to eat or nurse, and inability to be consoled.

Diagnosing Brain Damage

Congenital brain damage is diagnosed after thorough physical examinations, blood testing, and imaging studies, such as computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.

Doctors use blood tests to identify any chromosomal abnormalities. Physical examination helps a doctor identify any physical deformities that would affect the child's development. In addition, medical technologies, like MRI and CT scans, help doctors determine the presence of brain damage. In some cases, congenital brain damage is diagnosed after parents notice irregularities in their child's development of physical and/or cognitive functions, such as speaking and crawling.

With the progression of medical technologies, the future of prenatal diagnosis of congenital brain damage is promising. Advancements in ultrasound examination and maternal blood testing may help doctors to identify infections, chemicals, substances, and genetic defects that could impair fetal brain development.

Acquired brain damage is diagnosed similarly to congenital brain damage. However, in addition to imaging scans, doctors use the Rancho Los Amigos Scale and the Glasgow Coma Scale to diagnose the extent of non-congenital brain damage and determine chances for recovery.

Brain Damage Treatment

Congenital brain damage treatment helps patients with neurological disorders manage their physiological or cognitive impairments. While there is no cure for congenital brain damage, many doctors prescribe therapies that help develop basic physical function and communication skills. Physical therapy develops voluntary motor skills that allow a person to eat, bathe or walk, while speech or cognitive therapy teaches communication.

Unlike congenital brain damage treatment, which helps patients manage their disorders, acquired brain damage treatment attempts to fix the injury and prevent further brain damage. If left untreated, many patients with acquired brain damage can experience life-threatening complications, such as brain swelling and increased intracranial pressure.

Intracranial pressure is the amount of force the brain, blood, and cerebrospinal fluid (which cushions the brain and spinal cord) exert on the skull. When injured, the brain can swell, accumulate extra fluid and increase in size, which can lead to increased intracranial pressure and brain damage.

In some situations, surgeons need to insert a catheter into the skull to relieve pressure and drain collected blood and cerebrospinal fluid. A surgeon may also drill holes into the skull (craniotomy) to relieve pressure. A less invasive option for patients is strong medication, including medications like corticosteroids, which help reduce brain inflammation and swelling.

In addition to taking measures to control intracranial pressure, doctors sometimes perform surgery to repair skull fractures, stop bleeding or improve blood and oxygen flow to the brain.

Both non-congenital and congenital brain damage may require extensive and expensive medical care, treatment and therapy.

Compensation for Brain Damage

Traumatic brain injury is a common cause of brain damage, and in many cases traumatic brain injury victims and their families are entitled to compensation. A personal injury lawyer can help determine if a traumatic brain injury lawsuit should be filed to ensure that you receive the compensation you deserve. To learn more about brain injury and head injury, please refer to other articles on this site.

[Last revision: July 2009]

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