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Understanding traumatic brain injury

With all of the recent coverage of concussions in contact sports, such as football and hockey, the public has become far more aware of brain injuries and their effect on people's lives.

New Yorkers, with two professional hockey teams and two professional football teams, are constantly presented with news reports about athletes who have suffered head and brain injuries. One of the most damaging types of these injuries is traumatic brain injury (TBI).

TBI usually results from a violent blow to the head or body. Any object that penetrates the skull and enters the brain can also cause TBI. For most New Yorkers, the causes of TBI are falls from ladders or down stairways, vehicle-related collisions, violence, sports injuries or explosive blasts suffered while on active military duty.

The symptoms of TBI can sometimes be difficult to spot, especially if the initial injury did not cause a visible wound. In adults, the symptoms of mild TBI include loss of consciousness, headache, nausea or vomiting, fatigue, problems with speech, difficulty with sleep and dizziness or loss of balance.

For more severe TBI cases, symptoms include extended loss of consciousness, persistent headache, convulsions or seizures, clear liquids draining from the ears or nose, dilation of one or both pupils, weakness or numbness in fingers or toes or loss of coordination. Mental symptoms may include profound confusion, agitation or other unusual behavior, slurred speech, coma or other disorders of consciousness.

Children who suffer TBI may exhibit subtle symptoms that can be difficult to spot. These include changes in eating habits, unusual irritability, persistent crying, changes in sleep habits, a sad or depressed mood or seizures. If any of these symptoms are spotted, the child should receive immediate medical attention.

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