Traumatic Brain Injuries and Seizures
A traumatic brain injury is “a disruption in the normal function of the brain that can be caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head, or penetrating head injury.”[i] Essentially, it is a term that broadly refers to any brain injury that results in an abnormal function of the brain. Because these brain injuries are unable to be seen by the individual, they are usually discovered by the symptoms which the abnormal functions produce. The symptoms range from mild to severe. One may have had a mild traumatic brain injury that results in difficulty sleeping, or a severe traumatic brain injury that results in slurred speech or a coma.[ii]
One relatively common symptom of a traumatic brain injury is a seizure. These occur in about 20% of individuals who have experienced a traumatic brain injury.[iii] The abnormal function is a sudden electrical disturbance in the brain.[iv] Though these are typically thought to occur where a person becomes immobile and stiffens or shakes, seizures may also have occurred when one is unresponsive, making chewing, lip smacking or fumbling movements, has strange sensory experiences, experiences sudden tiredness or dizziness, or is unable to speak to or understand others.[v]
What is a Traumatic Brain Injury?
As we said, a traumatic brain injury is any injury that disrupts the normal functioning of the brain. One comes to learn of a traumatic brain injury through the symptoms that the abnormal functioning produces.
So essentially, a TBI is an injury that results in a set of symptoms. These symptoms range from minor concussions to comas. A mild TBI can result in loss of consciousness, headache, confusion, lightheadedness, dizziness, blurred vision or tired eyes, ringing in the ears, bad taste in the mouth, fatigue or lethargy, a change in sleep patterns, behavioral and mood changes, or trouble with memory, concentration, attention or thinking.[vi] More severe traumatic brain injuries can result in persistent headaches, continued vomiting, convulsions or seizures, inability to wake, pupil dilation, slurred speech, weakness in arms and legs, loss of coordination, or increased confusion, restlessness or agitation.[vii]
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and you have experienced a blow to your head in the past, you may have a traumatic brain injury and should seek medical care as soon as possible. The attorneys at Haffner & Morgan know many well qualified and experienced neurologists and are happy to answer your questions and give you a referral. A neurologist will ask about your symptoms and your injury, and perform a neurologic exam.[viii] They may do imaging tests of your brain, such as a CT scan or MRI, or perform neuropsychological tests to check your brain.[ix]
The extent of the TBI is the extent to which the symptoms show. To really understand an individual TBI, one needs to understand the individual who suffered that TBI and how it has come to affect their life. An effective attorney needs to not only spend their time learning how these symptoms show themselves in your day-to-day but also needs to understand what your life was like prior to your TBI.
What is a Seizure and How Do You Know if You’ve Had One?
Seizures are classified into two types: generalized seizures which affect both sides of the brain, and focal seizures which are located in just one area of the brain.[x] They occur when an uncontrolled burst of electrical activity
Generalized seizures can include absence seizures or tonic-clonic seizures.[xi] Absence seizures are more mild, causing rapid blinking or temporary staring into space. Tonic-clonic seizures include the symptoms most commonly associated with seizures. These cause individuals to cry out, lose consciousness, fall to the ground, or have muscle jerks and spasms.
Focal seizures include simple, complex, and secondary generalized. A simple focal seizure can result in twitching or sensation changes (experienced through strange tastes and smells). A complex focal seizure results in a more serious confusion or daze. Secondary generalized seizures begin as focal seizures, in one part of the brain, and then spread to both sides of the brain, becoming generalized seizures.
If you have had a TBI it is important to note that there are many different types of seizures described here. It is prudent for you to speak with a medical professional who understands these issues and can correctly diagnose your symptoms in order to help treat your underlying issues. Seizures may last as long as a few minutes. If you experience a seizure that lasts more than 5 minutes, call 911. Emergency personnel should also be called when an individual hurts themselves during a seizure.
Around 10% of people who have had a TBI will experience an early seizure afterward.[xii] Early seizure is a seizure that occurs within the first week of the brain injury. Approximately 25% of these occur within the first hour following the TBI, while 50% occur within the first 24 hours. Those individuals who experience early seizures are at a higher risk of developing post-traumatic epilepsy. When a TBI victim experiences a seizure more than one week after the TBI, it is known as a late seizure. Late seizures are symptomatic of serious brain cell injury. Late seizures are also indicative of the individual developing post-traumatic epilepsy.
Post-traumatic epilepsy is a condition in which an individual is at risk for recurrent seizures as a direct result of brain injury. An individual who has experienced a TBI has a 2% chance of developing post-traumatic epilepsy. The majority of those individuals, approximately 80%, will experience focal seizures. 50% of people with post-traumatic epilepsy develop it within one year of the TBI. However, it can develop in as long as 15 years after the traumatic incident.
If you believe you have experienced even a single seizure, it is highly important that you seek medical help. Treating with antiseizure medication early can help lower the chances of progress to post-traumatic epilepsy. Getting a medical handle on seizures early is an important step in lowering the risk of further injury to the brain. Anticonvulsant treatment is recommended for those individuals who have experienced a late seizure. Approximately 33% of individuals will have no seizure symptoms after their initial treatments.[xiii]
Where anti-seizure medication does not work, other treatments may be available. Surgery that seeks to safely remove epileptogenic brain tissue is an option for people with drug resistant post-traumatic epilepsy. Nerve stimulation can be considered for those individuals who are both resistant to anti-seizure medication and who don’t qualify for surgery. Developing therapies such as responsive neurostimulation and deep brain stimulation provide further avenues in treating post-traumatic epilepsy.
The Impacts of Seizures on The Brain
Individuals who suffer from post-traumatic epilepsy may develop what is known as comorbidities. These are symptoms that occur while the individual has post-traumatic epilepsy. Post-traumatic epilepsy symptoms are highly similar to TBI symptoms.
Physical symptoms include decreased mobility, poor coordination, headaches, chronic pain, sleep and movement disorders. Cognitive symptoms include memory and attention problems, poor decision making, speech problems, impulsivity, and learning difficulties. Psychiatric symptoms can include anxiety, depression, personality changes, aggressive behavior, PTSD, suicide, and PNES.[xiv]
Many of these symptoms are as serious as post-traumatic epilepsy itself and treatment should be sought for them along with an individual’s post-traumatic epilepsy.
Compensation For Your Traumatic Brain Injury
A traumatic brain injury can easily lead to extensive medical bills, loss of income and earning potential, and a dramatic decrease in quality of life. Adding these problems to the symptoms a TBI victim suffers through can be debilitating and depressing. However, a personal injury lawyer with experience in traumatic brain injuries can help you recover financially from whoever caused your harm. Your recovery can include both economic and non-economic damages, together known as compensatory damages. In some instances, where the injury was the result of malice, oppression, or fraud, damages can be awarded to the plaintiff as a way of punishing the wrongdoer and deterring similar future occurrences.
Compensatory damages cover most of the damages that are recovered in a traumatic brain injury lawsuit. It is a term that refers to both economic and non-economic damages. The goal of these damages are to compensate the individual for the harm that they suffered.
When thinking of economic damages think of money. These damages are awarded to compensate the victim of a tort for the money that they lost as a result of the tort.
Usually, an individual who suffers a concussion may recover their medical bills, the loss of income for time taken off of work, loss of future income, and/or the cost of damaged or lost property.
Non-economic damages are non-tangible and compensate an individual for the suffering incurred as a result of the traumatic brain injury. These damages are not easily quantifiable and require a personal injury lawyer with the experience and knowledge necessary to vigorously argue on your behalf. They can include pain and suffering, and emotional distress.
Punitive damages are awarded to an individual in order to punish a person for doing something wrong and to deter others from acting similarly in the future. In order to be awarded punitive damages an attorney must show that a defendant carried out a wrongful act while knowing that it would end in harm or with a reckless disregard for the likely outcome of harm. Because of the higher burden of proof required in showing the element of intent, these damages are not awarded as often. But an experienced attorney will and should pursue these on your behalf where available.