Traumatic Brain Injuries a Significant Public Health Problem

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 138 people die every day from injuries associated with brain injury. Around 30 percent of all injury deaths are the result of brain injury.

TBI is caused by a blow or trauma to the head that alters the brain - even for a minute. The blow can penetrate the skull (open head injury) or not (closed head injury). It can happen when the person hits something with his or her head, or something hits the person. In other words, the way people experience a brain injury varies. There is no single cause.

Common causes of TBI include motor vehicle accidents and falls. Car accidents account for 17.3 percent of all traumatic brain injuries and are the second leading cause of TBI, according to the Brain Injury Institute. Brain injuries in car accidents occur because of extreme forward or backward movement (whiplash) or when the head hits something like the windshield, air bag, steering wheel or dashboard with force.

Although car accidents get attention in the media, the most common cause of TBI is falling. Children and elderly people are especially likely to fall and are the most common victims of TBI resulting from falls. Workplace accidents are another significant cause of brain injuries resulting from falls.

Construction workers are particularly susceptible to falls that result in TBI. A Canadian study, published in 2009, found that falls were the most common cause of TBI among construction workers and being hit by a falling object second. People who work in construction have a higher chance of dying as a result of TBI, according to the Washington State Department of Health.

A study by the Massachusetts Department of Health found that falls from a building accounted for 62 percent of fall fatalities, with more than half being the result of TBI. Falls from scaffolds, ladders and hoists are other common causes of TBI among construction workers. In many instances, the right fall prevention equipment can stop or lessen the impact of in-the-job falls.

There are several million TBIs each year, with most of them being classified as mild and often referred to as concussions. This type of TBI usually results in a slight change in mental state for a short period of time. Victims of mild TBI generally recover relatively quickly with few or no visible consequences. However, even a seemingly mild TBI can lead to significant problems later on, problems that develop slowly during the days or months after the traumatic event that caused the injury.

A story from National Public Radio in 2013 stated that between 10 and 20 percent of people who suffer concussions go on to have long term or chronic problems, rather than recovering relatively quickly. Such problems include depression, anxiety, headaches, difficulties with balance, as well as challenges while trying to think or concentrate. Moreover, recent studies have shown that people with concussions - even those without obvious symptoms - experience physical changes such as brain shrinkage and atrophy.

Doctors report that people can experience concussion symptoms even when diagnostic imaging studies such as MRIs and CAT scans show no changes. There are no reliable blood tests that confirm what the patient is saying about his or her symptoms.

Another issue related to concussion is false security resulting from wearing helmets. Because there has been so much attention given to helmet-wearing recently, people may feel that they are protected from brain injury by wearing a helmet. It turns out that wearing a helmet does not stop the brain from hitting the hard surface of the skull, which is what causes concussion and TBI.

Medical advice about what to do after a concussion varies depending on age and the cause of the concussion. Children who sustain concussions in sporting events need to see a physician in order to return to play. Anyone who sustains a concussion, whatever the cause or the age of the victim, should see a physician if symptoms do not go away after a few days or a week, or if new symptoms develop.

TBI is a significant public health problem in the United States, resulting in 2.5 million emergency room visits, hospitalizations or deaths in 2010, according to the CDC. In that year, more than 50,000 people died as a result of TBI. In New York State alone, there are almost 400 incidents that cause TBI every day and 2,000 deaths every year, according to the New York State Department of Health.

As a result of the severity of the problem, many states have task forces, commissions and studies that focus on TBI and its prevention. Non-profit groups such as the Brain Injury Association of New York State provide advocacy, prevention programs and information to victims of brain injury and their families as well as to the general public.

TBI prevention efforts seem to have resulted in positive change: Deaths from TBI decreased by seven percent between 2001 and 2010, according to the CDC. It remains to be seen whether this trend continues.

If you or a loved one suffered a brain injury that was caused by another's negligence, an experienced personal injury lawyer can advise you about your rights and options. You may be entitled to compensation.