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Vail Daily health column: Learn the traumatic brain injury ‘danger signs’

Dr. Mark Pithan
Special to the Daily
Dr. Mark Pithan.
Special to the Daily |

tips on recovering from a traumatic brain injury

1. Always wear your helmet.

2. Don’t push too hard too fast. Recent research has shown that the brain needs rest after an injury, just like any other body part. Don’t try to “exercise” your brain back into shape too quickly. Take things slow.

3. If an activity causes symptoms to worsen, it is too soon to do that activity.

4. If you have a bad fall and impact your helmet, it is best to get a new helmet.

5. Hang in there, most patients who have sustained a traumatic brain injury do have great outcomes.

As the ski season begins to wind down and with March being National Brain Injury Awareness Month, I thought it would be a good time to discuss the growing problem of traumatic brain injuries in Colorado and the rest of the United States. First, here are some statistics from The Brain Trauma Foundation:

Traumatic brain injury is the leading cause of death and disability in children and adults from ages 1 to 44.

Brain injuries are most often caused by motor vehicle crashes, sports injuries and simple falls on the playground, at work and in the home.

Every year, approximately 52,000 deaths occur from traumatic brain injury.

An estimated 1.5 million patients are treated for head injuries every year in U.S. emergency departments.

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At least 5.3 million Americans, 2 percent of the U.S. population, currently live with disabilities resulting from traumatic brain injuries.

Males are about twice as likely as females to experience a traumatic brain injuries.

Moderate and severe head injury (respectively) are associated with a 2.3 and 4.5 times increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Here in the mountains, we are no strangers to traumatic brain injuries. Many of us know someone who has suffered from a traumatic brain injury, and some of us have sustained one (or more) ourselves. Traumatic brain injuries are a daily occurrence in all seasons throughout Eagle County and Summit County. Even with the ever-increasing use of helmets, traumatic brain injuries continue to pose a serious health threat to our community.

Most people who experience a mild traumatic brain injury (or concussion) have minimal symptoms and recover completely and relatively quickly. A more serious brain injury could earn you a trip to the hospital or even a trip to the Front Range for neurosurgical intervention.

While the acute injury can be life threatening and scary, the lingering effects from traumatic brain injuries can be equally problematic. Some victims complain of ongoing headaches, dizziness, vertigo, cognitive problems, seizures, mood changes and visual problems. These symptoms can seriously interfere with your work, personal life and other relationships. They can limit you from doing the things you love. Sometimes this is simply because some brains take longer than others to heal, but other times it is a sign of more significant damage that may have been missed at the time of the injury.

If you or a loved one have suffered a head injury and symptoms are still not going away, please seek further evaluation by a neurologist. Here are some of the danger signs after a traumatic brain injury, from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

• A headache that gets worse and does not go away.

• Weakness, numbness or decreased coordination.

• Repeated vomiting or nausea.

• Slurred speech.

The people checking on you should take you to an emergency department right away if you:

• Look very drowsy or cannot be awakened.

• Have one pupil (the black part in the middle of the eye) larger than the other.

• Have convulsions or seizures.

• Cannot recognize people or places.

• Are getting more and more confused, restless or agitated.

• Have unusual behavior.

• Lose consciousness (a brief loss of consciousness should be taken seriously and the person should be carefully monitored).

It is important that we continue to do everything we can in our mountain communities to prevent traumatic brain injuries in the first place. Please wear a helmet every time you partake in a potentially dangerous activity. In the unfortunate event that you or a loved one has sustained a traumatic brain injury, please seek medical attention. As winter is rapidly changing to spring, let’s have a safe and fun time doing the mountain activities we love.

Dr. Mark Pithan is the head neurologist at Summit Neurology, with office locations in Gypsum, Vail and Frisco. To find out more about Summit Neurology, visit http://www.summmitneuro.com. To schedule a consultation, call 970-477-0700.


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