In this post, we delve into the important topic of traumatic brain injury and inflammation, along with known strategies for helping with recovery.
What is a Traumatic Brain Injury?
The brain is an incredibly complex organ that acts as the command center to direct, interpret and influence our feelings, senses and movements. It also is our source of intelligence and storage of memories.
Inside its protective membranes and fluids as well as the skull’s hard case, this delicate organ is well protected. However, a violent blow to the head, neck, or upper body region can cause the brain to shift and bump against the walls of the skull that we call brain trauma or more commonly Traumatic Brain Injury, or TBI.
The incidence of TBIs is common in athletes, people over the age of 65, or individuals involved in high-risk professions (such as law enforcement and construction), but can happen to anyone.
Sometimes referred to as a concussion, TBIs are associated with a wide variety of symptoms and can affect brain function in many ways depending on the location and severity of the impact. A person with a mild TBI could experience symptoms for a few weeks to months, while individuals with a more severe TBI could experience repercussions for the rest of their life going from mild discomfort to major disability.
The short-term symptoms of a TBI include, but are not limited to:
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Cognitive impairment
- Sensitivity to light and sound
- Irritability or mood changes
- Trouble sleeping
- Gait issues
These signs and symptoms can be subtle but should not be overlooked or forgotten. Symptoms could be immediate, appear over time, come and go or last for years. It is particularly important to get a proper physical and imaging check by a physician, family doctor or trauma specialist.
It is often very difficult for individuals to identify, recognize and monitor the symptoms associated with TBI. Prior to returning to common daily or sport activities, you need to get an appropriate medical attention.
It can be difficult to diagnose TBI, and there is no single way or clear set of criteria to do so. Every individual will present specific signs, symptoms and impairment. Common diagnosis techniques exist and include:
- Medical neurological examinations
- Cognitive testing
- Imaging tests (i.e., MRI, CT scan)
- Visual observations of symptoms
- Self-report symptoms
If you or someone you know thinks they may have experienced a TBI, it is very important to seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Inflammation Process in the Brain Following Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
What does a TBI do to the brain, exactly? The impact has the potential to severely damage nerve cells of the brain, leading to chemical and cellular changes in the body. The injured brain experiences an undeniable inflammatory response, as do all areas of the body as its way of self-protection and repair following injury.
After a TBI, the body’s immune system and cells responds to the injury by producing and releasing small proteins called cytokines. These proteins aim to protect the brain and initiate a reparative process after injury.
However, if these proteins and other pro-inflammatory products continue to be produced longer than expected, these inflammatory molecules will begin to have a negative effect on overall brain health, healing, and can actually cause further damage.
Check out the graphic below that simplifies the process:
TBI Recovery & Treatment
Early treatment of TBI is the best way to quickly recover and prevent further issues. For the majority of brain injuries, physical and cognitive rest is recommended and effective to alleviate or eradicate most symptoms. Remember to always listen to your doctor regarding treatment.
To achieve physical rest, it is recommended to avoid sports, vigorous movements, and general physical exertion until you are symptom-free. Once symptom-free at rest, you can likely return to your regular activities in a slow, stepwise fashion according to your doctor’s recommendations.
If at any point, an individual participates in activities that cause their symptoms to reappear, it is very important for them to return to an inactive state for the time being and go back to their doctor for further examination. Medical professionals will advise individuals when it is appropriate to return to their normal life and physical activity routines.
To achieve cognitive rest, limit activities that require thinking and mental concentration, such as reading, working, texting, and mental games. Physical and cognitive rest is often effective at reducing TBI symptoms after a period of days to weeks. However, in severe cases, pharmaceutical measures may be recommended. Again, speak to your doctor about options. It is also often recommended to limit or stop screen (TV, tablet, phone) exposure.
Current pharmacologic interventions consists of targeting and treating isolated TBI symptoms of TBI that an individual has; unfortunately, there has yet to be an option that addresses the totality of TBI-related events occurring in the body following injury.
There is also the option to introduce a natural intervention such as omega-3 fatty acids as a therapeutic strategy post-TBI, to reduce inflammation and protect the brain from the detrimental cascade of events following injury.
We recommend that you see a medical professional if you have experienced a brain injury. Do not start or stop any medication type (pharmaceutical or natural) without medical approval.