Acquired, non-traumatic brain injuries, such as anoxic brain injuries, occur after birth and account for a significant portion of the more than 2.8 million brain injuries recorded in the country every year. Anoxic brain injury changes the course of the patient's life as it affects the body's physical, cognitive, and emotional functions.
What is Anoxic Brain Injury?
Anoxic brain injury occurs when brain cells suffer permanent injury or death due to a complete lack of oxygen. The anoxic encephalopathy process begins when blood flow to the brain ceases, and brain cells begin to die if oxygen levels remain significantly low for four minutes or longer. The brain requires a constant supply of adequate oxygen to meet the metabolic needs of its cells. When this supply is completely disrupted, one loses consciousness, and brain cells begin to die shortly after. Cellular injury in the brain often has severe health consequences and may result in death.
What Causes Anoxic Brain Injury?
Unlike traumatic brain injury (TBI), which is caused by sudden trauma or external forces, anoxic brain injury occurs when the oxygen supply to the brain is disrupted by an internal event such as:
- Near drowning
- Cardiac arrest
- Cardiac arrhythmia
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- General anesthesia complication
- Electrical shock
- Drug overdose
- Lung contusion (lung injuries) or other respiratory conditions affecting proper breathing
- Infectious disease
- Extremely severe asthma attack
- Chronic anemia
- Brain tumors
- Acute hemorrhage
- Extremely low blood pressure
While anyone may suffer an anoxic brain injury, certain categories, including manual labor workers and children, are at heightened risk. Think of chemical factory workers who may be constantly exposed to harmful chemicals and toxins. Infants and older children may also suffer anoxic brain injuries due to unintentional suffocation, choking, or accidental strangulation. Individuals with underlying health conditions such as chronic anemia and extremely severe respiratory conditions also may be at risk of anoxic brain injury.
What are the Ramifications of Suffering an Anoxic Brain Injury?
Early or short-term symptoms of anoxic brain injuries include:
- Lack of concentration
- Difficulty communicating
- Light-headedness and dizziness
- Loss of consciousness
Symptoms may vary from one person to the next. Moreover, anoxic brain injury has varying ramifications depending on the extent of cellular damage and the part of the brain affected by the injury. In some people, the immediate result of anoxic brain injury may be loss of consciousness or a coma. Such people go into a "deep sleep" and don't wake up or respond to stimulation. Some regain full consciousness, but many patients die without doing so.
Physical Issues with Anoxia
The consequences of anoxic brain injury can be broadly categorized as physical and cognitive. Patients who regain consciousness but don't receive immediate treatment may experience many physical issues. One of these problems is ataxia, a lack of coordination. Patients may have a wobbly gait and appear to stagger or weave while walking. Individuals may also suffer from apraxia, the inability to carry out everyday gestures and body movements, which makes them unable to perform everyday tasks such as bathing, grooming, and eating.
Some patients also have movement issues, experiencing rigidity, spasticity, muscle spasms, jerky movements, and other involuntary movements. Patients will also likely experience quadriparesis or weakness in all four limbs. Other physical issues associated with anoxic brain injury include cortical blindness, seizures, and limited bladder and bowel control.
Cognitive Issues with Anoxia
The ramifications of anoxic brain injury can be temporary or permanent, with mild or severe symptoms. Besides the physical issues, patients may experience various cognitive impairments, including:
- Memory loss: Patients may have difficulty forming new memories (anterograde amnesia) or lose memories formed before the incident (retrograde amnesia). They might also experience difficulties learning new information or recalling previously learned information.
- Reduced attention spans and concentration: Individuals may find it challenging to focus on tasks, especially those requiring sustained attention over long periods.
- Poorer executive functioning: Patients may have difficulty with planning, organizing, problem-solving, decision-making, and impulse control. That can make it difficult to manage their daily lives and work activities effectively.
- Language and communication issues: Aphasia is a language impairment affecting the production or comprehension of speech and the ability to read or write. This issue is more common if the anoxic event affects areas of the brain that control language.
- Visuospatial skills: Anoxia can cause damage to the brain parts responsible for understanding and interpreting visual information. This can lead to problems with judging distance, identifying shapes and objects, and understanding how parts fit together.
- Emotional and behavioral changes: Individuals may experience mood swings, anxiety, depression, irritability, impulsivity, or personality changes.
Some of these physical and cognitive issues may be lifelong, defining how one lives for the rest of their life.
What are the Treatments for Anoxic Brain Injuries?
Signs such as heart arrhythmia or loss of consciousness indicate a need for urgent medical treatment. However, before treatment begins, a doctor should run diagnostic tests for anoxic brain injury, which help evaluate the extent of brain damage and plan a suitable treatment strategy. These tests include:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): An MRI uses radio waves and strong magnets to produce accurate brain images. This test helps visualize any brain damage or abnormalities caused by anoxia. An MRI is particularly useful in diagnosing anoxic brain injury as it can detect even minor changes in brain tissue that might not be visible in other imaging tests.
- Computed tomography (CT) or computerized axial tomography (CAT) scans: A CT or CAT scan provides a set of X-ray images taken from different angles around your body, and a computer creates cross-sectional images of the bones, blood vessels, and soft tissues. A CT scan can quickly visualize fractures and bleeding in the brain, making it a crucial tool in the early diagnosis of anoxic brain injury, especially in emergencies.
- Evoked potential tests: These measure the brain's electrical activity in response to specific sensory nerve pathway stimulations. They help evaluate the functioning of the nerve pathways in the spinal cord and the brain. In the case of anoxic brain injury, EP tests can help determine the extent of damage by showing delayed or absent responses.
- Electroencephalogram (EEG): An EEG records the brain's electrical activity. It can detect abnormalities in the brain waves or electrical activity of the brain, which can be affected by anoxic brain injury. In cases of severe anoxia, the EEG may show suppression of activity or specific patterns indicative of anoxic injury.
- Blood tests: Blood tests are used to identify the cause of the anoxia. They can indicate issues like a heart attack, low blood sugar, electrolyte imbalances, and toxins or poisons, which could lead to a lack of oxygen to the brain.
There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for anoxic brain injury, as every case is unique. For instance, if a heart arrhythmia causes anoxia, the first step in the treatment plan is stabilizing the heart's rhythm. The doctor will then combine the treatment for the condition with efforts to halt further brain damage by restoring oxygen supply to the brain.
Initial Treatment Phase
Usually, the doctor will put the patient on a ventilator during the initial treatment phase to maintain an adequate oxygen level. Other forms of immediate treatment include keeping the patient cool to reduce the brain's temperature and prevent further damage. The doctor may also administer steroids to reduce brain swelling and prevent further damage to the brain. They may also put the patient on barbiturates to reduce brain activity and allow brain cells to recover. Anti-seizure medications or anesthesia — for severe seizures — may also be included in the initial treatment phase if the patient experiences seizures.
After treating life-threatening injuries and achieving stability, the doctor will likely recommend that rehabilitation begin as soon as possible to prevent muscle atrophy, especially in older patients. Rehabilitation usually involves various medical professionals, including nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and specialists such as orthopedists. This treatment phase may include physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, adaptive equipment training, and recreational therapy, all aiming to return the patient to maximum functioning.
By constantly communicating with the rehabilitation team, family members and other close individuals can better understand the goals of therapy and the condition of their loved one. It's also important for them to have a support network to help manage the physical and emotional toll of caring for an anoxic brain injury patient.
Lifestyle Changes to Accommodate Anoxic Brain Injury
Anoxic brain injury can necessitate lifestyle adaptations to accommodate new challenges, which may include:
- Rehabilitation therapy: Patients often require ongoing physical, occupational, and speech therapy. These aim to improve physical strength and coordination, develop coping strategies for cognitive deficits, and enhance communication abilities. Regular appointments and exercises form a crucial part of the daily routine.
- Home modifications: Changes to increase safety and accessibility could include installing grab bars in the bathroom, using a shower seat, lowering countertops, securing carpets, adding ramps, or even rearranging furniture to facilitate movement.
- Assistive devices: Patients might need a wheelchair, cane, or walker, or communication aids such as speech-generating devices to improve their daily functioning.
- Medication management: Patients may be given drugs to control seizures, mood stabilizers, or medications for pain and spasticity, making a reliable medication management system crucial.
- Diet and exercise: A nutrient-dense diet and regular exercise can improve overall health, boost mood, and aid recovery. This may involve working with a dietician or physiotherapist to develop a personalized plan.
- Cognitive training: Patients often have to relearn and practice cognitive skills, such as memory strategies, attention tasks, and problem-solving exercises. This cognitive rehabilitation can be incorporated into daily routines.
- Psychological support: Regular counseling, support groups, or psychotherapy may be necessary to help individuals and their families cope.
What are the Expenses Related to Living with Anoxic Brain Injury?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the annual healthcare cost of non-fatal brain injuries is about $40.6 billion. These figures don't account for the potential costs of lifestyle modifications after an anoxic brain injury. Some of the expenses and costs patients have to bear include:
- Medical expenses: Initial hospitalization and emergency care can include diagnostic tests, surgery, medications, and intensive care stays.
- Rehabilitation costs: These can include paying for physical therapy as well as neuropsychological rehabilitation for cognitive impairments. These services are usually necessary for an extended period, adding to the overall cost.
- Home modifications and other lifestyle adjustments: There are expenses related to changes such as installing ramps, adapting bathrooms, or modifying the kitchen for wheelchair access. Patients may also need assistive devices to improve their quality of life.
- Medications and medical supplies: Ongoing prescriptions for managing symptoms and necessary medical supplies can result in significant healthcare expenses.
- Legal expenses: In some cases, there may be ongoing legal costs related to the cause of the injury or managing the person's affairs.
- Loss of income: The inability of the patient or their primary caregiver to return to work can lead to a significant income loss.
How Does Personal Injury Law Play into Anoxic Brain Injury?
Personal injury law is critical when an anoxic brain injury occurs due to another party's negligence or intentional action. Specifically, personal injury law is intertwined with anoxic brain injury cases in the following ways:
Proving Fault in Anoxic Brain Injury Cases
Personal injury law enables victims to hold negligent parties liable for their brain injuries accountable for their actions. Under Section 33.001 of the Civil Practice and Remedies Code of Texas, for example, a claimant can recover compensation even if they are partially at fault, provided their percentage of fault isn't greater than 51%. In Louisiana, personal injury cases follow the pure comparative fault rule, which provides that the amount of damages recoverable by an injured party shall be reduced in proportion to the percentage of negligence attributed to them.
Damages Available in Personal Injury Cases
Under personal injury law, the injured party may receive different damages if they can prove that another party was responsible for their injury, even partially. Victims can seek compensation for both economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages include quantifiable costs, including medical bills, rehabilitation costs, lost wages, and future care needs. Non-economic damages are more subjective and include emotional anguish, pain and suffering, and reduced quality of life. The court may also order the defendant to pay punitive damages if their actions are deemed extremely reckless.
How a Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help
Personal injury cases can be complex, as the victim or plaintiff must prove that the defendant was responsible for their injury. Having a personal injury lawyer in your case can help in various ways, including:
- Establishing liability: The first step in a personal injury case is determining who is legally responsible for the injury. Suppose the injury occurred due to an accident, a medical error, a violent act, or a workplace incident. In that case, a catastrophic injury lawyer can investigate the circumstances to identify any negligent parties. For instance, if a drunk driver causes a car accident and the victim sustains an anoxic brain injury, the driver may be held liable.
- Negotiations and trial: Most personal injury cases end in out-of-court settlements through negotiations with the liable party's insurance company. The case may go to trial if a fair settlement cannot be reached. An experienced personal injury lawyer can advocate for the victim in both scenarios, seeking to obtain the maximum compensation possible.
- Expertise and guidance: Catastrophic injury cases can be complex, and anoxic brain injury cases are no exception. The injury's long-term implications may be uncertain, and the costs could be substantial. An experienced catastrophic injury lawyer can guide victims and their families through this process, ensuring they understand their rights and options.
For an anoxic brain injury victim, understanding the connection between personal injury law and their injury can be significant to receiving compensation. The costs associated with this type of injury can be enormous, and it's a significant financial burden for many. By seeking legal redress, victims can obtain the resources they need to manage their condition, cope with the changes in their lives, and secure their future.
If you'd like more information, contact Morris & Dewett Injury Lawyers at 888-492-5532.
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