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The most protected and most important organ in the body, the brain serves as our body’s life center, so injury to the brain can have severe disabling and permanent consequences. The information below will describe some of the more commonly encountered types of brain injuries and the mechanisms that can cause them.
Although many brain injuries are the result of accidental trauma, there are other situations in which they can occur. Two of the most important types on non-traumatic injuries to the brain are "hypoxic" and "anoxic" brain injuries.
Hypoxic Brain Injuries
Technically, cerebral hypoxia refers to a lack of oxygen to the cerebral hemispheres or the outer portion of the brain. However, it is more typically used to refer to a lack of oxygen to the entire brain. Hypoxic brain injury, or cerebral hypoxia, occurs when the brain receives insufficient oxygen. Conditions that may lead to cerebral hypoxia include an abnormally low blood pressure, too little oxygen in the inhaled air, drugs that depress normal breathing, smoke inhalation, and complications of general anesthesia. This type of brain injury affects the entire brain rather than only a specific area. Brain injuries affecting the entire brain are often referred to as global cerebral injuries.
Traumatic Brain Injuries
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is much more frequently seen than cerebral hypoxia and is the result of some mechanical force external to the skull causing some degree of altered brain function. The resulting injury can vary from minor injuries that are temporary in duration, to severe injuries that may be fatal or cause a lifetime of disability.
TBI can be roughly separated into two major divisions: open head injury and closed head injury.
Open head injuries are those that result in abnormal contact between the environment and the skull/brain. Open injuries include penetrating trauma such as stab and gunshot wounds, as well as blunt force traumatic injuries which expose the brain.
A closed head injury is any head injury that is not open. The different types of closed head injury can be described by the type of physical force responsible for the injury.
These injuries occur when the brain is subjected to an abrupt change in momentum, such as when a stationary automobile is struck from the rear (acceleration of the brain) or a moving vehicle strikes another object (deceleration).
A contrecoup (French, "contre" - against, opposite; and "coup" - touch, blow) injury occurs when a force applied to one side of the brain causes injury to the side directly opposite the force. As an example, a blow delivered to the right side of the brain could cause a contrecoup injury on the left side, because the brain is “slammed against” the inside of the skull at the opposite side.
Shearing Force Injury
A shearing force injury occurs when one part of the brain remains relatively immobile while the rest of the brain is subjected to a violent force. During this process the immobile portion is "stretched" or "distorted" which, in turn, produces a disruption in its cellular structure similar to the damage that can been seen in a muscle strain or a bruise. Shear force injuries are frequently associated with a severe brain injury called a diffuse axonal injury (see below).
Diffuse Axonal Injury
A diffuse axonal injury refers to a severe brain injury involving several areas or regions of the brain ("diffuse") and that the injury has occurred at the level of the brain cells ("axons") themselves. This injury is usually the result of shear force stretching of the brain tissue and often involves a critical area of the brain known as the brain stem, which controls the vital functions of breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure.
The severity of a brain injury resulting from each of the above-listed mechanisms (with the exception of diffuse axonal injury) can vary from minor injury to death. And, it is impossible to predict how quickly or completely recovery from such injuries occur. If you or a loved one has suffered a brain injury through the negligence of another individual or entity, a discussion with an attorney can give you a better idea of your rights to compensation for your injuries.