What You Should Know About Traumatic Brain Injury

Marc J. Shapiro, MD, FACS, FCCM, Professor of Surgery and Anesthesiology, Assistant Chief Quality Officer, discusses what you need to know about traumatic brain injuries and, most important, how to prevent them.

What is a traumatic brain injury (TBI)?

A TBI is any injury that occurs to the brain — often leading to devastating consequences that keep individuals from functioning at the same level as before the event occurred. Most common causes include motor vehicle crashes, falls and sports-related trauma. Despite multiple methods used to lower the incidence, TBI rates in the United States are on the rise.

What can be done to help prevent TBI?

In many cases, TBIs can be prevented. There are many simple things an individual can do:

  • Be sure that your car has a three-point restraining seatbelt; that is, one that has both a lap and shoulder component, and wear it at all times. During an accident, in order for the airbags to work properly you must be wearing a seatbelt. Otherwise, the deployed airbag acts as a kind of lever that can catapult passengers through the windshield.
  • If you drive a motorbike or motorcycle, wear a helmet. Statistics show that the number and severity of head injuries decrease with helmet use. States that have repealed their helmet laws show an increase in head injuries and, ironically, organ donation. Also, be sure that the helmet is crash-certified by the appropriate federal agencies.
  • If you have been drinking alcohol, don’t drive. Alcohol is a factor in 50 percent of motor vehicle accidents where a death occurs. Not only does alcohol affect reaction time when driving, it could also interfere with the healthcare provider’s ability to assess and treat you properly.
  • Make sure the headrest in your car is aligned properly for your height; otherwise, during an accident, your head could be propelled forward and backward from the headrest, which can lead to whiplash, a spinal cord injury or a broken neck.
  • If you are taking any type of narcotic medication, ask your doctor if it is okay for you to drive. In fact, it is a good idea to ask your doctor this question when you start any new medications, as many can impair judgment and slow reaction times.
  • If you are taking blood thinners, you must take extra preventive measures because even a minor fall or hit to the head can result in devastating consequences. Watch for headaches, visual disturbances, droopy eyelids or problems with arm or leg function. Should any of these symptoms emerge after any kind of blow to the head, call your physician immediately or go to an emergency room.

How does Stony Brook approach TBIs?

First and foremost, we advocate prevention and participate in a number of community initiatives aimed at preventing accidental injury, such as Safe Kids. However, if a brain injury occurs, you should know that Stony Brook is the only Level I Trauma Center in Suffolk County and a leader in trauma care — not just in New York, but in the nation.

Stony Brook was recently recognized among the top four percent of trauma centers nationally, as well as the top hospital in the country for treating pedestrians who have been hit by motor vehicles. For the past five years of reporting, it is one of only two facilities in New York State to be recognized as a leader. In addition, Stony Brook coordinates trauma services for all of Suffolk County and is instrumental in setting and maintaining the standard of care.

With sophisticated diagnostics and a collaborative, multidisciplinary team composed of emergency physicians, trauma surgeons, orthopedic surgeons, neurosurgeons - and other specialists as needed - nurses, critical care doctors, and respiratory, physical and occupational therapists, Stony Brook takes a comprehensive approach to all injuries, especially brain injuries. Because a brain injury can worsen once it occurs, Stony Brook uses a number of early interventions to relieve pressure on the brain, such as draining fluid from the brain to decrease damage from swelling and to keep blood flow to the brain from being compromised. Once patients are medically stable and can be discharged, Stony Brook physicians continue to monitor them, whether they are discharged home or to a rehabilitation center, to ensure that patients can return to as close to a pre-injury condition as possible. There is no greater gratification than when our patients visit with our healthcare team after making a remarkable recovery.

For more information about traumatic brain injury, call (631) 444-4000.

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All health and health-related information contained in this article is intended to be general and/or educational in nature and should not be used as a substitute for a visit with a healthcare professional for help, diagnosis, guidance, and treatment. The information is intended to offer only general information for individuals to discuss with their healthcare provider. It is not intended to constitute a medical diagnosis or treatment or endorsement of any particular test, treatment, procedure, service, etc. Reliance on information provided is at the user's risk. Your healthcare provider should be consulted regarding matters concerning the medical condition, treatment, and needs of you and your family. Stony Brook University/SUNY is an affirmative action, equal opportunity educator and employer.