The Canadian Transportation Safety Board estimates there are about 160,000 car accidents in Canada each year. Of those, nearly 2,900 end in deaths. For those who survive, many suffer muscle, nerve and spine injuries. Motor vehicle accidents can also cause traumatic brain injury (TBI). This type of injury often occurs when the skull hits stationary objects via direct contact. Other times, whiplash can cause TBI. Whiplash happens when your head and neck jerk forward and backward very quickly due to rapid acceleration and deceleration forces.
Many studies have shown, however, that traumatic brain injury often goes unrecognized and untreated following an auto accident. A missed diagnosis can happen even though the patient has been fully assessed by a medical doctor. Before we explore why TBI is often missed, let’s take a closer look at this complex injury.
What is Traumatic Brain Injury?
Traumatic brain injury can have a devastating impact on the victim and his or her loved ones. It usually results from a violent blow or jolt to the head or body. If an object penetrates brain tissue, like a bullet or piece of skull, this can also cause TBI. A mild case of traumatic brain injury can temporarily affect your brain cells. Even if left undiagnosed, many victims will not notice any symptoms for years, if ever. More serious cases of TBI, however, can result in bruising, bleeding and other physical damage to the brain. Left untreated, traumatic brain injury can lead to the following:
- Anxiety and depression, often accompanied by mood changes and irritability
- Persistent lightheadedness, clumsiness, dizziness and frequent headaches
- Loss of vision or hearing
- Tendency to stutter and loss of speech
- Mental difficulties, such as struggling to read or write
Symptoms of TBI tend to linger for months, years or even decades after the accident. The people most at risk for traumatic brain injury are males of all ages and adults aged 60 and older.
According to Brain Injury Canada, about 1.5 million Canadians live with the effects of brain injury every day. The annual occurrence of acquired brain injury is great than that of Multiple Sclerosis, Spinal Cord Injury, HIV/AIDS and Breast Cancer combined.
Why is Traumatic Brain Injury Often Missed?
Some studies have shown that doctors often miss traumatic brain injury if a patient has suffered an arm or leg fracture. Those who are involved in an auto accident are often victims of limb fractures. This could explain why so many medical professionals are not noticing the signs of TBI.
Brain injuries can be missed by health professionals for a number of other reasons too. For example, the signs of TBI may not be obvious immediately after a crash. Although the symptoms of whiplash may be present, doctors may not necessarily investigate further. If emergency personnel fail to ask the proper questions, traumatic brain injury can be easily overlooked. On the other hand, symptoms of TBI may not present themselves until a much later date. It’s crucial for healthcare providers to focus on more than just the overt injuries. This way, there are fewer chances of a TBI diagnosis being missed, and victims can receive early treatment before symptoms worsen.
How is Traumatic Brain Injury Treated?
Once traumatic brain injury has been properly diagnosed, a trauma surgeon will meet the patient. This trauma surgeon, acting as the leader, will direct a team of health professionals to assess whether the patient requires surgery. Surgical staff could involve a neurosurgeon or an orthopedic surgeon. Once stabilized, the patient is transferred to a trauma care unit. Nursing staff will conduct repeat assessments to monitor physiologic or body functions.
Following release from the hospital, the patient will most likely be referred to a registered physiotherapist. Depending on the severity of the trauma, a physiotherapist can help with a number of issues including:
- Respiratory care
- Treatment for passive range of motion
- Reduction of spasticity, a condition whereby certain muscles are always contracted
It’s important to note that TBI stemming from sports-related activities has a higher rate of recovery than injury from a motor vehicle accident. Research has shown that symptoms can persist for more than 6 months. This is why it’s crucial to receive proper intervention from a registered physiotherapist, so the patient can return to normal activities quickly.
If you’re ever involved in a car accident, be sure to consider the possibility of traumatic brain injury—no matter how mild the symptoms may be. If you suspect TBI, ask your healthcare professionals to conduct an assessment using the Glasgow Coma Scale. This 15-point test will help doctors determine severity by checking your ability to follow directions and move your eyes and limbs. Speech coherence will also provide valuable clues. With an early diagnosis, it is very possible to lead a fulfilling life even after suffering such a complex injury.
For more information on treating traumatic brain injury, please call Focus Physiotherapy at 1-888-341-6101 or contact us here.