Brain injuries are a leading cause of disability in the United States, both temporary and long-term. There are many different causes of brain damage; some cases, primarily those that result from accidents, are unavoidable while others are caused by medical mistakes.
The two main causes of brain damage are trauma and oxygen deprivation.
Brain Damage from Trauma
A traumatic brain injury is one that results from a fall, motor vehicle accident or other incident involving blunt force to the head. Falls are a leading cause of traumatic brain injury, including falls that occur in nursing homes due to inadequate safety measures or supervision. Traumatic injury to the head can damage the delicate tissue of the brain. Even if the full damage is not visible, brain injuries are often serious and life-altering. The symptoms of traumatic brain injury vary widely, depending upon the type and extent of the injury.
Traumatic injury to the delicate brain of a baby can occur during labor and delivery through the improper use of forceps, suction, or another kind of force to the baby’s head. Certain instruments or procedures can cause excessive force to the head that can fracture the skull and result in brain damage.
There are two main categories of traumatic brain injuries: penetrating head injury and closed head injury.
A penetrating head injury, which usually involves an open wound or injury, involves an actual penetration of the skull and brain tissue and is visible to the eye.
A closed head injury is the more common type of traumatic brain injury. These kinds of injuries vary widely in severity. The consequences can be temporary and minimal or long-term and severe. For example, a minor concussion is a form of closed head injury, with symptoms that usually resolve within hours or a few days. On the other end of the spectrum, some closed head injuries can result in complete and lifelong disability, loss of physical function and cognitive ability, or even death.
Brain Damage from Oxygen Deprivation
Another major cause of brain damage is oxygen deprivation, which can occur during labor and delivery, in the emergency room, during surgery or as the result of a stroke, shock or cardiac arrest. Pressure on the brain from conditions such as cerebral edema (swelling), brain hemorrhages and hydrocephalus can also impair the brain’s ability to absorb oxygen.
Cerebral hypoxia is a form of hypoxia (reduced supply of oxygen) specifically involving the brain. When the brain is completely deprived of oxygen, it is called cerebral anoxia. Hypemic hypoxia, a form of reduced brain function caused by inadequate oxygen in the blood, even when there is adequate environmental oxygen, can occur with anemia, carbon monoxide poisoning and severe asthma.
Mistakes during Labor and Delivery
Many incidents of brain damage resulting from medical mistakes that occur during labor and delivery. Cerebral palsy, which can cause a wide range of cognitive and physical disabilities, is may be the result of a medical mistake that deprived a child of oxygen during pregnancy, often while the mother was in labor.
Physician mistakes that may cause cerebral palsy include:
- Failing to perform a cesarean section when the fetus is in distress or getting too little oxygen
- Inadequately monitoring the mother during pregnancy and throughout the labor process
- Misinterpreting test results during pregnancy or outright failure to conduct necessary tests
- Failing to monitor closely when the mother has a high-risk condition such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, asthma, renal disease, lupus or thyroid disease
Other medical mistakes that can cause brain damage to infants include:
- Incorrect use of forceps, suction or other instruments or procedures
- Accidentally fracturing the baby’s skull through excessive force during the birth process
Other Medical Mistakes That May Cause Brain Damage
Here are some of the medical mistakes that can lead to brain damage, caused by trauma or oxygen deprivation, in children and adults:
- Delay in diagnosis and/or treatment of hydrocephalus
- Improper diagnosis and follow-up after a fall or other blow to the head
- Delay in treating severe cases of asthma
- Failure to recognize carbon monoxide poisoning and provide immediate treatment
- Failure to diagnose and treat a stroke in a timely manner
- Mistakes in prescribing and/or dispensing medication; including incorrect prescriptions or dosages or failure to administer correct medication
- Mistakes administering anesthesia
- Incorrect or inadequate treatment in the emergency room
- Delay in diagnosis and treatment of a heart attack or cardiac arrest
- Failure to recognize and treat an aneurysm or blood clot
- Failure to promptly diagnose and treat diabetes, diabetic coma/insulin shock
- Dislodging an intubation tube during surgery, thereby interrupting the flow of oxygen to the brain. This could be the fault of the medical team for failing to notice the tube had become dislodged, the fault of the tube manufacturer if the tube dislodged because of a design defect, or both parties.
- Inadequate supervision and fall-prevention safety measures in nursing homes or other assisted living facilities
Symptoms of Brain Injury
Medical professionals agree that it is crucial to identify a brain injury as quickly as possible so the appropriate treatment can begin immediately. Delaying the diagnosis and subsequent treatment of a brain injury can lead to more serious consequences that include lifelong disability or death.
Sometimes the symptoms of a profound head injury are not immediately apparent, especially if it is a closed head injury. That is why it is important to be on the lookout for signs of brain damage and seek immediate medical attention after a fall, accident or other incidents where the head is struck or jarred.
Some of the signs of brain damage from a closed head injury include:
- Unconsciousness at the accident site, a coma, or seizure(s)
- Headaches, nausea, confusion, or other problems with concentration or memory
- Personality or behavior changes, such as unusual anger, irritability or depression may signal a traumatic brain injury. Family, friends, and co-workers may notice these changes while the injured person may not be aware of them.
Prompt medical attention should always be sought for a suspected head injury.
If a doctor or a hospital is found to have provided care that is “below the accepted standard of care in the medical community,” then it may be a case of medical malpractice. Because the medical and legal issues are complex, it is essential to have an experienced medical malpractice lawyer on your side.
If you or a loved one has suffered a brain injury that you believe was caused by a medical mistake, contact us as soon as possible for a free consultation.