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What is Diffuse Brain Injury?

A diffuse brain injury is when brain nerve fibers become twisted or otherwise displaced. It typically occurs due to a swift head movement, such as twisting, shaking, or blunt force. A person with this injury will generally remain conscious and lucid, so it may not be detected immediately.

Brain nerve fibers, also known as axons, connect the nerve cells from different areas of the brain to one another. When a sudden unexpected head movement occurs, the fibers may become misshapen and partially disconnected from the nerve cells. If the brain nerve cells are not completely connected to one another, they cannot properly communicate, which can result in a person having difficulty processing information, speaking, or even affect his or her movement.

Diffuse brain injury can be caused by a concussion, or a sudden trauma to the head after a fall or other forceful hit. The sudden force can jar the brain’s axons and disturb their positioning. After a person experiences a concussion, he or she may appear confused or have sudden memory loss. Athletes who participate in contact sports are at a higher risk of experiencing concussions.

One of the most common causes of diffuse brain injury without direct trauma is whiplash. Whiplash occurs when a person’s head is suddenly thrust in a forward motion followed immediately by another backward motion, which can cause the axons to twist or loosen. Whiplash can occur due to high speed followed by sudden braking in a vehicle or in infants who are suddenly shaken by their caregivers.

A diffuse brain injury can be difficult for a doctor to diagnose because the brain fibers damages are so small that they do not show up in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computerized tomography (CT) scan. A person with the injury may also not even begin to show symptoms until two to three weeks after the actual incident that caused it. Typical symptoms may include unexplained daily headaches, dizziness, trouble focusing, or memory loss. A doctor will usually determine if an injury has occurred by the types of symptoms displayed and may still run a MRI or CT scan. Even though they won’t show the actual injury, they can help the doctor to ensure no blood is present in the brain, which could be fatal if not immediately surgically treated.

Since the brain axons will usually regenerate and heal themselves over time, a diffuse brain injury does not typically have a specific treatment. If the axons do not heal, a person could experience long-term, permanent brain damage and will constantly deal with memory loss, headaches, or trouble concentrating. A person who has experienced more than one diffuse brain injury throughout his or her life will often have a higher risk of having permanent brain damage because his or her axons may not be able to fully regenerate.

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