Identifying and Treating Traumatic Brain Injury in Children

Traumatic brain injuries are relatively common in children, but that doesn’t make them any less terrifying for parents or damaging for the child. Traumatic brain injury is the leading cause of death and disability in American children and adolescents. Infants and children have weaker necks and torsos than adults, which makes them susceptible to injury. Knowing how to identify the signs and symptoms of a traumatic brain injury can go a long towards preventing serious consequences.

What Is Traumatic Brain Injury?

A traumatic brain injury is defined as a disruption in the normal function of the brain that can be caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head, as well as a penetrating head injury. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of incidence for traumatic brain injury in children 0 – 4 is typically much higher than the rates for any other age group. Through the years 2001-2010, traumatic brain injuries occurred in children 0 – 4 with almost double the frequency as the next highest age group (15-24).

Symptoms of Traumatic Brain Injury

While the symptoms of traumatic brain injury in children are similar to those in adults, because children’s brains are still developing, traumatic brain injury can have more devastating long-term effects on their cognitive and social abilities. These impairments may not be immediately obvious, but as the child grows older he/she may face difficulty learning or developing new, more complex cognitive and social functioning.

The symptoms of TBI can be broken into three categories: physical impairments, cognitive impairments, and emotional impairments.

Physical Impairments

  • Speech

  • Vision

  • Hearing

  • Headaches

  • Motor coordination

  • Paralysis

  • Balance

  • Seizure disorders

  • Fatigue

  • Spasticity of muscles

Cognitive Impairments

  • Short-term memory loss

  • Concentration

  • Slow thinking

  • Attention span

  • Perception

  • Communication

  • Planning

  • Writing

  • Reading

  • Judgment

Emotional Impairments

  • Mood Swings

  • Denial

  • Self-centeredness

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Low self-esteem

  • Sexual dysfunction

  • Restlessness

  • Lack of motivation

  • Difficulty controlling emotions

Physicians and other medical professionals may use these impairments to determine whether a person has undergone a traumatic brain injury. However, a patient may not display all of these symptoms, or they may display them to different degrees. The symptoms can vary greatly depending on what area of the brain was injured.

Acute symptoms of a concussion, for example, include vomiting, headaches, restlessness, irritability, excessive crying or inability to be consoled.

Traumatic Brain Injury Treatment

Patients who suffer a traumatic brain injury often have to stay in the hospital overnight for observation. They also may have a CT scan taken of their brain, so the physician can assess the extent and location of the injury.

Computed Tomography scans are non-invasive radiological imaging tests that use a combination of x-rays and computer imaging software to create cross-sectional images of soft tissue in the body. These scans can provide more detailed images than a traditional X-Ray.

Immediately after a traumatic brain injury, physicians will often attempt to stabilize the patient and maintain blood pressure, fluid, and glucose levels. Physicians will also try to limit or minimize swelling in the brain, which may require medication or surgery. Surgeries may be used to remove blood clots, repair skull fractures, or relieve cranial pressure.

In the long-term, patients may need to undergo physical or cognitive rehabilitation. Patients also may need to be put on medications to help treat and manage long-term symptoms, such as anxiety or seizures. In some incidences, patients may need to see psychiatrists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, or speech/language pathologists to help treat brain injury.

If you think your child may have suffered a traumatic brain injury, it is important that they be taken to a hospital. For outpatient procedures regarding the treatment and follow-up testing of traumatic brain injuries, book an appointment to see one of our specialized radiologists.

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