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Long-term Implications of Head Injuries

Head injuries, particularly traumatic brain injuries, are a common complication of motor vehicle accidents; some people recover fully from their traumatic brain injury or have minimal complications, while other sustain a permanent disability from their accident.

One study looked at the self-reporting of health complications and other factors affecting a person’s health after a motor vehicle accident. The study was a population-based and cross-sectional study of mild traumatic brain injury patients who sustained their injury from a traffic-related event. The events occurred between December 1, 1997 and November 31, 1999 in Saskatchewan.

The subjects amounted to 929 adults who made a personal injury claim after a motor vehicle accident. The patient had to demonstrate some kind of head blow with possible loss of consciousness or amnesia after the accident. Those with loss of consciousness greater than 30 minutes and those who were in the hospital for more than two days were excluded from the study.

The data were self-reported and came from insurance application forms completed within six weeks of injury. They used the data to discern certain factors about the health of these injuries. A total of 75 percent of all victims of a motor vehicle accident had excellent to very good health prior to injury. A total of 71 percent indicated that they had poor to fair health following the motor vehicle accident injury. There were post-crash symptoms of depression, sleeping problems, a great degree of neck pain or low back pain and they felt low expectations of ever recovering from their injury, especially those with greater injuries sustained.

Those who suffered what could be perceived as mild traumatic brain injury felt a decrease in the perceptions of their overall general health. It was felt that things could be done in the early stages following the trauma to intervene on their poor perception of health.

In some cases, the patient could have a reasonable reason for feeling poor health after their injury. For example, the patient could have suffered a whiplash injury along with their head injury or they could have a spinal cord injury, leading to general poor health. Patients also can have fractures of the ribs, pelvis, femur and lower extremities, which can lead to poor ambulation or chronic pain. This can lead to real deficits in functioning that cause a decline in the individual’s health.

The patient may also have only a head injury but may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or post-traumatic depression which can make a person feel as though their health is suffering because, emotionally, they are suffering. Patients with post-traumatic stress disorder can suffer from depression, anxiety, poor sleep, flashbacks and feeling like there are dangerous things out there in the world because, to them, they have suffered from a dangerous thing.

With post-traumatic depression, there are changes in the neurotransmitters in the brain that result in decreased serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain from previous trauma. The answer to that is to give this type of person antidepressants, which can change the pattern of neurotransmitters in the brain.

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