We’ve talked about traumatic brain injuries on the blog in the past, as these types of injuries are often serious and require medical intervention. But what exactly happens in your head when trauma occurs in the region? Today, we take a closer look at the forces at play during a traumatic brain injury.
For simplicity’s sake, today’s breakdown of what happens during a traumatic brain injury is going to be limited to what goes on during a closed head injury. These injuries are more common and less severe because the skull and brain contents have not been penetrated, but just because it’s a closed TBI doesn’t mean that it doesn’t need medical attention.
A closed head TBI is categorized as an event where the brain is damaged through acute force, but the skull and the brain are not penetrated. Slamming your head into an airbag during a car accident or bumping heads with an opponent during a soccer match are two common causes of closed head TBIs, as are fall injuries. Symptoms associated with a traumatic brain injury include headaches, dizziness, loss of consciousness, memory loss, confusion, sensitivity to light or difficulty concentrating.
But what goes on inside your head when that trauma occurs?
During A TBI
During a closed head TBI, your brain experiences a trauma from being thrust in one direction and colliding with your skull. When this trauma occurs, the following can happen inside your brain:
- Brain tissue is bruised
- Axions (part of the nerve cell) are damaged
- Blood vessels tear
When brain tissue is bruised or blood vessels are torn, your brain goes through the natural defense response just like other areas of your body, and it begins to swell. However, this can be problematic, because your brain can only swell so much before it begins to compress vital areas of the brain since it is housed inside your skull.
If you sprain your ankle and it swells, you may notice that your shoe fits a little more tightly, but if it begins to get uncomfortable you can remove your shoes. You can’t do anything as simple as removing a shoe to relieve pressure in your brain. In minor or mild TBIs, the brain can swell and then return to its normal state over the course of a few days or weeks without severe complications, but other times brain surgery is needed to remove part of the skull so the brain can safely expand.
Clots and Neuron Damage
Another potential problem inside the brain after a closed TBI is the formation of a blood clot. When vessels are ruptured after a TBI, blood from veins and arteries can pool into a clot and pressurize different areas of your brain. When a clot occurs inside the brain itself, it is known as an intercerebral clot, and when it occurs between the brain and the skull, it’s called a subdural clot. So long as the clot is not over-pressurizing an area of the brain, oftentimes surgery can be avoided so long as the clot is monitored and tests show that heal is taking place.
One final problem that can occur during a closed head injury is damage to neurons and axons. Neurons are the cell bodies of the brain that are essential for communication, while axons are the bridge through which neurons fire and communicate with one another. When either of these bodies are injured, communication can’t take place. Sometimes these structures can mend themselves, but if the damage is too extreme, they will die off. Too much neuron or axon damage can lead to extreme cognitive problems.
In the end, traumatic brain injuries should always be examined and monitored by a neurologist or medical professional. If you have suffered a TBI, make sure you set up a consultation with a specialist.