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What are some possible outcomes of a severe brain injury?

A traumatic brain injury occurs when a blow to the head or a penetration of the skull results in brain damage. Depending on the extent of brain damage, a TBI can be classified as mild, moderate or severe. A severe TBI may be diagnosed if the symptoms include a worsening or persistent headache, seizures or convulsions, vomiting, slurred speech, dilated pupils, numbness or weakness in the arms and legs, confusion or loss of coordination.

Prompt medical attention is critical when a moderate or severe TBI is suspected. Doctors cannot do much to reverse the brain damage that has already occurred, so they will generally focus on stabilizing the patient and preventing further damage. This means maintaining adequate blood flow and an adequate supply of oxygen to the brain, and controlling blood pressure.

The potential outcomes of a severe TBI can be life-changing. About 50 percent of patients with a severe head injury will need surgery to repair or remove bruised brain tissue or ruptured blood vessels. Disability is a common result of a severe TBI. Possible disabling conditions include cognitive problems, problems with sight, hearing and other senses and problems communicating. Mental health problems may include depression and personality changes.

The most severe cases may result in a coma, a state in which the patient is unconscious and cannot be aroused; or a vegetative state, in which the patient is unconscious but continues to experience a sleep-wake cycle and intervals of alertness. When a vegetative state continues for over a month, it is classified as a persistent vegetative state, probably the worst possible outcome of a traumatic brain injury.

Traumatic brain injury can result from many causes, including car accidents and workplace injuries. If the injury was caused by another person's negligence, or took place on the job, victims and their families will often have legal rights to compensation.

Source: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, "Traumatic Brain Injury Information Page," accessed Jan. 1, 2017

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