— The brain is a precious thing. It controls your muscles, thoughts, reasoning, breathing and a host of other vital bodily functions. Unfortunately, the brain is not exempt from damage. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are at least 1.7 million traumatic brain injuries each year. Traumatic brain injuries are caused by bumps, blows, jolts or penetrating injuries to the head that alter normal brain function.
Fortunately, preventing brain injuries is something you can do starting right now.
Individuals who are at the highest risk of brain injuries include:
- Young children, particularly newborns to 4-year-olds. Their heads are disproportionally larger, and as any parent can tell you, kids often land on their head.
- Teens and young adults, especially those between 15 and 24 years old. This group participates in more contact sports.
- Adults 75 and older. Diminished vision, balance issues and arthritic joints cause a significant amount of falls in this age group.
There are many proactive measures you can take to help prevent brain injuries and head trauma. Following these basic tips will have a positive impact on your brain health:
- Wear a helmet. While your skull does a great job of protecting your brain, it was not designed to take higher speed impacts. It’s important to wear a helmet while you are riding an all-terrain vehicle, bicycle, motorcycle, skateboard or snowmobile. Be sure to wear helmets or other approved forms of head protection when playing any contact sports, skiing, snowboarding or riding a horse.
- Don’t drive under the influence. We all know drinking and driving is dangerous, but it is also important to avoid driving under the influence of drugs, including many prescription medications.
- Buckle up. Always wear your seatbelt. Secure small children in the back seat in a safety seat that is the right size for their height and weight.
- Prevent falls. You can effectively reduce falls in your home by installing handrails in bathrooms and on stairways; improving lighting; keeping your floors and stairs free of clutter; inserting slip-resistant mats in your bathtub and shower; and exercising regularly.
If you do experience head trauma, understanding brain injury symptoms is essential for seeking timely treatment and avoiding further complications.
Signs of a brain injury range from mild to severe and may include:
- Temporary loss of consciousness (a few seconds to a few minutes)
- Confusion or disorientation
- Dizziness or loss of balance
- Nausea or vomiting
- Changes in mood
- Disrupted sleeping patterns (sleeping more or having trouble sleeping)
- Slurred speech
- Pupil dilation in one or both eyes
- Constant headache or headache that becomes more severe
- Clear fluids coming out of the ears or nose
- Any adult symptoms
- Persistent crying
- Refusal to eat, or a change in eating or nursing habits
- Lack of interest in favorite activities or toys
If you notice any of these symptoms in yourself or someone else, seek medical attention immediately.
By learning more about prevention, risks and symptoms, you can be adequately prepared to reduce your risk of a brain injury or complications from head trauma. This information will help keep you and your family safe in a world full of uncertainty. Think of your brain.
Ronak Shah, M.D., is a Mayo Clinic Health System emergency medicine physician.
Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato is hosting its annual Bicycle Safety Rally from 3 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 2, at the River Hills Mall in Mankato. Families can purchase bike helmets at a discounted price and participate in other bike safety activities. For more information, please go to mayoclinichealthsystem.org.
Health & Fitness coverage is supported by Mayo Clinic Health System, preserving the health and well-being of southern Minnesota communities.