In observation of National Brain Injury Awareness Month, throughout this month our Chicago brain injury attorneys are focusing on the various types and causes of brain injury. Earlier this month, we looked generally at traumatic brain injury, or TBI. Traumatic brain injuries are “classic” brain injuries, and are caused by the type of accident generally associated with brain injury in the public imagination.
But there is a second major category of brain injury, one that is often overlooked: nontraumatic brain injuries. Today, we take a closer look at this type of injury.
Nontraumatic brain injury is any damage or injury to the brain that does not result in a blow to the head. This can be the result of any number of causes, but the result is the same: brain injury and its serious effects, up to and including disability and death.
Many of the effects and symptoms of nontraumatic brain injury parallel those of traumatic brain injury. There are some important distinctions, however. First and foremost, because TBI is the result of a physical injury to the brain, the injury is often (but not always) concentrated in a particular area or areas of the brain – where the blow occurred, or the object penetrated the skull. Nontraumatic brain injury, however, is often systemic, affecting many or all parts of the brain rather than concentrated in a one or two particular areas of the brain.
The causes of nontraumatic brain injury are many and varied. Nontraumatic brain injury can result from, among other causes, oxygen deprivation caused by heart attack or stroke, birth injury, certain illnesses, metabolic disorders, and toxic substances (poisoning or drug use). Below are descriptions of some of the most frequent culprits in nontraumatic brain injuries.
- Hypoxic-Anoxic Injury (HAI). In spite of the technical name for this category of nontraumatic brain injury, it is actually very easy for the layman to understand. Simply put, this type of injury results from oxygen deprivation to the brain, either partial or total. This deprivation can in turn be caused by a difficult labor and birth, a heart attack or stroke, or many other events.
- Infection. At times, something as simple as illness can lead to nontraumatic brain injury. In particular, infections, whether viral or bacterial, can lead to swelling either of the brain itself (called encephalitis) or of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord (called meningitis). A wide variety of infections can lead to this result, from infections as commonly known as chickenpox, measles and mumps to more exotic infections such as West Nile virus, Epstein-barr, tuberculosis, and even lyme disease. Sexually-transmitted diseases can also lead to this result, including herpes simplex and syphilis. In addition, the AIDS virus, although it does not directly cause nontraumatic brain injury, leaves victims more susceptible to developing nontraumatic brain injury as the result of an infection.
- Poisoning. Often referred to as toxic injury or metabolic injury, this cause is fairly straightforward. Certain substances are inherently dangerous to the human brain, whether in any quantity or only if allowed to build up. The classic example is lead poisoning, but the poison need not come solely from an external source. This form of nontraumatic brain injury can also occur when substances that would otherwise pass harmlessly through the body are instead allowed to accumulate in the brain due to other bodily problems, such as kidney failure.
- Drug Use and Abuse. Drug use can lead to nontraumatic brain injury in a number of ways. First, drugs can act as a poison, damaging the brain in the same way. Moreover, long-term drug use can actually alter the brain’s chemistry, leading to nontraumatic brain injury. Long-term use can also indirectly cause nontraumatic brain injury by damaging other parts of the body, which in turn leads to brain problems.
- Brain Tumors. Tumors can cause nontraumatic brain injury directly, damaging the brain as they grow, or indirectly – tumor treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation, can themselves cause nontraumatic brain injury.
Because nontraumatic brain injury is often the result of a “natural” cause such as heart attack or infection, many people do not realize that this form of injury can give rise to legal liability just like traumatic brain injury. For example, the failure to properly diagnose and promptly treat many of the conditions leading to nontraumatic brain injury can amount to medical negligence, and thus may be actionable in a civil case.
If you or someone you love is the victim of a nontraumatic brain injury, it is important to consult with an experienced brain injury attorney. A knowledgeable professional can help you to understand the causes of nontraumatic brain injury in your case, and determine whether you have a legal claim.
For a Free Consultation with a top Chicago brain injury lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us today at (312) 527-4500.