In honor of March being national Brain Injury Awareness Month, last week our Chicago brain injury lawyers engaged in a week long discussion of traumatic brain injury (TBI). When most people think of brain injuries, it is usually in association with a traumatic brain injury, for example from a physical impact sustained in an auto or motorcycle accident. But there is also another class of brain injuries known as nontraumatic brain injuries, which will be explored by our brain injury attorneys this week.
Nontraumatic brain injuries are brain injuries that are not caused by an external blow to the head. Such a nonviolent injury can occur for a variety of reasons, including an illness such as meningitis, hypoxia (oxygen deprivation), cerebral palsy, metabolic disorders such as kidney or liver disease, aneurysms, heart attacks, near drownings, tumors, drug overdose, and lead poisoning.
The most common causes of nontraumatic brain injury include:
• Hypoxic-Anoxic Injury (HAI): Where the brain receives inadequate levels of oxygen (hypoxic refers to a partial lack of oxygen; anoxic means a total lack of oxygen), most commonly as a result of a heart attack where blood fails to reach the brain, or sometimes caused by medical negligence at birth;
• Toxic or Metabolic Injury: Where the brain comes into contact with toxic substances, as for example with lead poisoning, or a buildup of harmful chemicals in the brain due to a condition like kidney failure;
• Infection: Where viral or bacterial infection causes encephalitis (inflammation or swelling of the brain) and/or meningitis (inflammation or swelling of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord). Some infectious agents associated with these conditions include coxsackie virus, Epstein-barr, herpes simplex, measles, mumps, rabies, rubella, varicella (chicken pox), West Nile virus, Lyme disease, syphilis, and tuberculosis. Certain high risk populations such as AIDS patients may also develop these conditions due to parasites such as roundworm or toxoplasmosis;
• Brain Tumors: Where a tumor causes direct damage to the brain, or treatment by chemotherapy or radiation results in diffuse brain damage;
• Stroke: A disturbance to the blood supply due to a blocked or burst blood vessel cuts off blood to the brain;
• Hydrocephalus: A build up of fluid on the brain that causes the brain to swell. Most commonly seen with infants or young children as a result of a negligent birth injury, infection, bleeding into the brain associated with delivery, or trauma at childbirth;
• Drug Abuse: Extended and heavy drug abuse can cause both direct damage to the brain through exposure to harmful chemicals or changes in brain chemistry, or indirect damage from harm to other bodily organs or systems, as for example with long-term abuse of alcohol, methamphetamines and cocaine.
Effects of Nontraumatic Brain Injury
While the effects of a nontraumatic brain injury are generally comparable to those of a TBI, there can be dramatic differences between the two types. Most obviously, a TBI is caused by a physical impact to a specific area of the brain. While such a blow can result in damage to nerve cells throughout the brain, resulting in catastrophic permanent injuries, the most severe damage usually is concentrated in the area of the blow itself. Thus, the location and extent of the TBI injury more readily identifiable.
In contrast, nontraumatic brain injuries do not have a specific physical starting point. Instead, these injuries are systemic, and generally result from an attack on and damage to the cellular structure of the brain. Thus nontraumatic brain injury often spreads to multiple and even all areas of the brain, and the location and extent of injury is often far more difficult to identify.
Most commonly, a nontraumatic brain injury is the result of natural causes such as an infection, heart attack or stroke. However, where such injury is caused by the carelessness, recklessness or intentional act of another person, such as medical malpractice at birth causing hypoxia, you have the right to hold that person accountable.
If you have a question or suspicion about your or a loved one’s brain injury, call for a free consultation with a top-rated Chicago brain injury lawyer at Passen & Powell for a free consultation today at (312) 527-4500.