A new study has indicated that the true incidence of traumatic brain injury is about six times higher than the official figures show. The study used sources including hospitals, brain imaging records, family doctors, prisons, traffic accident records, coroner and autopsy records, and accident records of schools and sports centers. It also included self-referrals, which were received from wide advertisement. The researchers used cases that occurred over a one year period. The previous statistics grossly underestimate the extent of traumatic brain injuries. The study included, for the first time, more mild cases of traumatic brain injury that are not usually treated in a hospital and, therefore, are often overlooked in official estimates.
Many people with head injuries do not realize that they have sustained a brain injury. A traumatic brain injury is caused by an external force, such as a bump or a blow to the head, which disrupts the normal function of the brain. The effects range from mild memory difficulties to dementia, seizures and depression. Traumatic brain injury is a major cause of death and disability worldwide, especially in children and young adults.
A mild traumatic brain injury is characterized by a relatively short loss of memory of the event of the injury or what has happened just after the injury, or a very minor loss of consciousness at the time of the injury. Anyone with a head injury resulting in losing consciousness or being dazed and confused should seek immediate medical attention. If people with a mild traumatic brain injury are treated in a timely manner, many of the negative consequences can be avoided. In addition to the damage caused at the moment of injury, brain trauma causes secondary injury, a variety of events that take place in the minutes and days following the injury, including alterations to cerebral blood flow and the pressure within the skull.
The study which was reported in The Lancet, a prestigious international medical journal, showed that 95% of the 1,369 traumatic brain injury cases in the study were mild. Sixty-four percent of these cases were detected by hospitals, with another 8% detected via the family doctor and 28% through other sources.
Even where the traumatic brain injuries were moderate or severe, they were not all detected by a hospital. In fact, 21% of moderate and severe brain injuries were discovered through other sources. The most common causes of moderate and severe traumatic brain injuries were transport accidents and falls, which each accounted for 39% of incidents.
On the other hand, falls were the most common cause of mild traumatic brain injuries resulting in 38% of injuries, with mechanical force following with 22% of injuries. Older injury victims were more likely to sustain a traumatic brain jury due to slips and stumbles, while younger victims were more likely to fall from heights or during physical play.
The study raises questions regarding healthcare policy and provisions that may be grossly inadequate to deal with the huge and growing burden of traumatic brain injuries occurring on an increasing basis. Researchers are calling for more population-based studies of traumatic brain injuries to help develop more effective treatment, prevention, and rehabilitation strategies.