How the Brain Changes After a Traumatic Brain Injury

Traumatic Brain Injury Research Reveals Brain Changes

In November of 2010, the Journal of Nuclear Medicine (JNM) published a study revealing how the brain changes after a traumatic brain injury.  By combining powerful imaging techniques, such as Positron Emission Tomography (PET scans) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI tests), researchers are getting a better look at what happens structurally in the brain, both short term and long term, after a traumatic brain injury takes place.

According to one of the study’s authors, the changes in brain structure and function are dynamic and continue to evolve progressively for months after a traumatic brain injury. One important aspect of the research found that there is a time window immediately following injury when medical intervention could reduce the severity of long term disability.

These findings not only give us a better understanding of how the brain functions after an injury, but they can also help in seeking new treatment therapies.

Biochemical and Physiological Events following a Traumatic Brain Injury

Following a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) or Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI, or concussion), a series of biochemical and physiological events occur. These events can include the following:

  • A breakage of the neuronal membrane by the injury
  • A decrease in cerebral blood flow to neurons
  • An increased demand for glucose, which is not present in sufficient amounts to maintain neuronal stability
  • A deficient blood supply combined with deficient oxygen supply, which leads to a metabolic disturbance
  • An immediate release of excitatory neurotransmitters causing neurons to fire repeatedly until they die
  • These cumulative events impact neurons that are distant from the injury site for many weeks or months

One of the most obvious conclusions we can make from these findings is that early treatment is essential for maximum recovery from brain injury!

Potential Complications of a Concussion

Following what is often medically referred to as a “mild traumatic brain injury,” (although I always say there’s nothing “mild” about a brain injury!), some symptoms, complications and risk factors include:

  • Tendency for re-injury
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Avoidance of activities
  • Isolation
  • Client and family stress
  • Anger at the “system”
  • Suicidal thoughts and attempts
  • Functional difficulties at work and home
  • Delays in recovery
  • Chronic disability
  • Long-term costs
  • Problems with the law

Information compiled with assistance from the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center