Treatment for traumatic brain injury occurs in a series of stages, starting with acute treatment and progressing to chronic, long-term care. As the first stage of treatment for traumatic brain injury, acute treatment works to stabilize the patient and prevent further physical, cognitive and/or emotional damage.
What occurs during acute treatment, as well as how long it lasts, will depend on how the traumatic brain injury occurred, the complications it has caused and the severity of any TBI complications.
For example, while some TBI patients will need to be on life support systems for a few days or longer, others may only need minimal treatment after experiencing traumatic brain injury.
Immediately after Traumatic Brain Injury
Because blows to the head or violent shaking can cause people to suffer from TBI, any of the body’s psychological systems, as well as cognitive functioning, can be damaged. As a result, the faster a traumatic brain injury patient receives treatment, the better chances he or she has for minimizing permanent damage and promoting recovery.
Some of the initial acute treatment for TBI involves:
- Clearing the lungs to aid breathing
- Maintaining healthy circulation (This is essential to ensuring the brain and other vital organs continue to receive oxygen-rich blood and, therefore, aren’t further damaged.)
- Medicating the patient (to calm, prevent spasticity or otherwise stabilize)
- Monitoring heart rate
- Removing any blood clots, especially those threatening to block the lung’s airways or blood flow to the brain
Once a traumatic brain injury patient is stable, critical care physicians will evaluate whether or not the patient needs to undergo surgery.
Surgery for TBI
While traumatic brain injury may cause a host of complications that, in and of themselves, require surgery, surgery for TBI is generally only warranted when dangerous blood clots need to be removed or when a patient’s intracranial pressure (ICP) is dangerously high.
ICP refers to the pressure within the skull. After a significant head injury, extra fluid can start building up in the skull, raising ICP. If intracranial pressure doesn’t return to normal levels, TBI patients may need surgery to drain some excess fluid.
ICP Monitors and Further Treatment
In some cases, a doctor will implant an intracranial pressure monitor under the patient’s skull during surgery. ICP monitors let doctors regularly check patients’ ICP with minimal invasion. Should ICP levels rise dramatically, further surgeries may be necessary.
Keep in mind that acute treatment is just one part of the course of treatment necessary for TBI patients. Follow-up treatment, including sub-acute and chronic treatment, will be essential to proper rehabilitation and acclimation to living as independently as possible.