What is a Severe Brain Injury?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
An MRI scan of the head is often used to help diagnose a severe brain injury.
An MRI scan of the head is often used to help diagnose a severe brain injury.

A severe brain injury is an injury to the brain accompanied by serious symptoms including potentially fatal complications such as swelling leading to brain death. Brain injuries are classified into mild, moderate, and severe on the basis of an assortment of symptoms and the use of rubrics like the Glasgow Coma Scale. The prognosis for a patient with this type of injury varies and there are a number of treatment options. Care is usually provided in a medical center specializing in brain injuries, where a high level of competence among care providers helps to increase the chances of a positive outcome for patients.

Amnesia lasting longer than seven days can be an indicator of severe brain injury.
Amnesia lasting longer than seven days can be an indicator of severe brain injury.

Severe brain injuries can be associated with a number of causes, both traumatic and non-traumatic. Car accidents, blows to the head, and strokes are some common examples. People with severe brain injuries experience symptoms like seizures, asymmetrical pupil dilation, slurred speech, and blurred vision, among others.

One simple metric used to assess brain injuries is the Glasgow Coma Scale, based on consciousness and ability to respond. Scores between three and eight on this scale often correspond to severe brain injury. In addition, loss of consciousness for more than 24 hours and amnesia lasting greater than seven days are also indicators of severe brain injury. All of these signs show that the patient has experienced a severe neurological insult leading to potentially permanent damage in the brain.

Intravenous fluids may be part of a treatment for a severe brain injury.
Intravenous fluids may be part of a treatment for a severe brain injury.

When a patient appears to have a severe brain injury, medical treatment is focused on keeping the patient stable and preventing further injuries to the brain. This can include giving patients intravenous fluids and other support, such as oxygen, in addition to monitoring pressure levels inside the skull and treating issues like aneurysms inside the brain. It is not possible to reverse damage already done, but the patient's prognosis can be greatly improved by halting the damage and monitoring the patient for the development of new complications.

In some cases, patients who suffer from a serious concussion may slip into a coma.
In some cases, patients who suffer from a serious concussion may slip into a coma.

For patients who recover from the initial danger, severe brain injury recovery is usually accompanied with lengthy rehabilitation. In rehab, the patient will learn to compensate for lost brain functions and will develop skills useful for functioning after recovery. Patients in rehab are assisted by physical therapists as well as other professionals after a thorough evaluation to determine the nature and extent of the damage. For some patients, it may be necessary to have an aide or assistant for life to provide help with daily tasks the patient can no longer perform.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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    • An MRI scan of the head is often used to help diagnose a severe brain injury.
      An MRI scan of the head is often used to help diagnose a severe brain injury.
    • Amnesia lasting longer than seven days can be an indicator of severe brain injury.
      Amnesia lasting longer than seven days can be an indicator of severe brain injury.
    • Intravenous fluids may be part of a treatment for a severe brain injury.
      Intravenous fluids may be part of a treatment for a severe brain injury.
    • In some cases, patients who suffer from a serious concussion may slip into a coma.
      In some cases, patients who suffer from a serious concussion may slip into a coma.
    • Car accidents are a common cause of severe brain injury.
      Car accidents are a common cause of severe brain injury.
    • Patients with head injuries may experience dizziness, light sensitivity, headaches, an altered sense of taste and nausea.
      Patients with head injuries may experience dizziness, light sensitivity, headaches, an altered sense of taste and nausea.
    • In most cases of severe brain damage, the patient was unconscious for at least six hours.
      In most cases of severe brain damage, the patient was unconscious for at least six hours.