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What Are Secondary Brain Injuries?

October 1, 2019

Brain injuries are some of the most serious personal injuries that can arise in accidents. The brain is a highly complex organ that can suffer myriad damages in even a seemingly simple incident. A secondary brain injury is a common issue victims may suffer after experiencing concussions or other initial brain injuries. It causes secondary damage to the brain’s tissues or cells from the brain’s physiologic response to the initial injury.

Secondary brain injuries are serious matters physicians must anticipate and try to prevent after primary brain injuries. If you or a loved one experienced a brain injury or second brain injury, speak with a qualified brain injury attorney.

What Causes Secondary Brain Injury?

The brain’s natural response to the initial injury can cause a secondary brain injury. When the brain suffers an injury, it can respond with several events, including declines in cerebral blood flow, edema, hemorrhage, infection, seizure or ischemia. The body can also respond with measures such as anemia, carbon dioxide changes, hypotension or hypertension. All these reactions to the initial injury could cause a secondary brain injury.

The first injury can cause bruising or bleeding in the brain that triggers a cascade of other physiologic effects. As the cascade of events following an initial injury continues, pressure in the cranium can increase, compressing brain tissues and causing further damage. The brain or body may also release neurotoxic substances that further neuronal damage. These secondary brain injuries can arise hours or days after the initial injury.

What Is the Difference Between Primary and Secondary Brain Injury?

A primary brain injury is the first brain injury the victim suffers. A primary injury can be traumatic (TBI) or acquired (ABI). A blow to the head, a penetrating skull injury, or lack of blood or oxygen to the brain could cause a primary brain injury. Types of primary brain injuries include concussion, contusion, diffuse axonal injury, hematoma and hemorrhage. A primary injury can cause symptoms such as loss of consciousness, mood changes, confusion, headache, sensory problems and nausea.

A secondary brain injury does not come from an external source, but mechanisms within the body reacting to the primary brain injury. The body and brain’s responses to brain injury can cause additional problems. Additional problems may include the failure of cellular systems and a resultant cascade of issues. Brain impairment from the primary injury, inflammation and declines in localized cerebral brain flow could all cause secondary brain injuries. Secondary brain injuries can ultimately lead to cell destruction and neuronal death.

Can You Prevent a Secondary Brain Injury?

Secondary injuries can substantially worsen the patient’s prognosis. They can exacerbate damage in brain cells the primary injury already made vulnerable. Preventing and treating secondary brain injuries is critical in the comprehensive care of a patient after an initial brain injury. Preventing hypoxia and hypotension are two key steps, as these common secondary injuries can decrease the oxygen levels in the brain and cause cell death. It is also important to prevent fever, seizures and hyperglycemia. These are secondary injuries that are avoidable with the correct emergency care of a patient with a TBI or ABI.

Secondary brain injuries are a reason patients should immediately seek medical care upon suffering an accident involving the head or brain. Any bump to the head could trigger a physiologic response that leads to serious secondary injuries on top of damages from the primary injury. Emergency medical intervention could use treatments such as intravenous fluids or oxygen to help reduce the risks associated with neurotoxic cascades and other secondary brain injuries.

If you suffer any type of head injury in a car accident, fall or act of violence, go to an emergency room right away for a checkup. An MRI, CT scan or x-ray could show signs of a problem even if you do not notice any symptoms. Prompt medical care could diagnose the primary brain injury. Physicians can begin immediate treatment and potentially stop secondary brain injuries from occurring.