March is Brain Injury Awareness Month

Know the signs of brain injury and when to seek medical attention

John Norbury, MD

March is Brain Injury awareness month, and with the recent death of actor/comedian Bob Saget due to a brain injury from a fall, many people are asking question about what to do you if you hit your head.

The simple answer is, “It depends.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 166 Traumatic Brain Injury-related deaths every day. While anyone can experience an injury to the brain, some groups in West Texas are at greater risk such as veterans, people living in rural areas, and racial and ethnic minorities. Children under four, teenagers, and older adults are also at higher risk.

Falls lead to nearly half of all brain injury related hospitalizations. Firearm-related suicide is the most common cause of brain injury related death in the United States and car accidents and assaults are other common ways a person may get a brain injury.

If someone hits their head, it’s important to determine if the injury is severe enough to warrant medical attention. The vast majority of the 1.5 million brain injuries in the United States are mild and do not require hospitalization, but some signs that indicate someone has a serious brain injury that requires medical attention include:

  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Difficulty with balance/walking
  • Changes in speech
  • Blurry vision
  • Headaches

Anyone experiencing these symptoms should reach out to a health care provider or go to the emergency room. It is especially important that people on blood thinners err on the side of caution and seek medical attention if there is any concern for brain injury after a fall.  

If you hit your head, and you are alone, it’s important that you call a friend and let them know.  Sometimes brain injuries are more apparent to friends or loved ones than they are to the person who sustained the brain injury.

In general, it is safe to go to sleep an hour after you hit your head as long as you don’t have the symptoms above. If there is any concern about whether or not it is safe to go to sleep, it would be better to seek medical attention.

After you or a loved one has sustained a brain injury, the best way to achieve a good outcome is to participate in a comprehensive rehabilitation program. This can be done on an inpatient or an outpatient basis (depending on how severe the injury is) and can include treatment with medications, therapy to improve walking, ability to care for oneself and speak and training focused on helping one to return to their daily life.

As with any other medical condition, the best way to prevent brain injuries is prevention which can include:

  • Wear a helmet when riding a bicycle or motorcycle
  • Use age-appropriate car seats for children
  • If you own a firearm, practice gun safety
  • If you or a loved one is struggling with falls, a course of physical therapy focusing on improving walking can help to prevent brain injuries.

Unfortunately, brain injuries are a fact of life. Nobody is immune even if they take precautions, but the good news is that prevention, and some common-sense measures can protect you and the ones you love.

John Norbury M.D., is a physiatrist (Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation physician) and associate professor at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. He also is the medical director of the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Program at Trustpoint Rehabilitation Hospital of Lubbock.

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