VCU Health traumatic brain injury expert answers questions in Twitter chat

Follow #VCUHealthChat to keep up with conversations on a variety of health topics in the coming months

Last week, The New York Times published an investigation revealing that more than 100 diagnosed concussions were omitted from research papers that the NFL has until now relied on as evidence to back the claim that brain injuries do not cause long-term harm to its players. It is not the first time concussions have made headlines. For instance, Hollywood joined the conversation late last year with the film “Concussion,” which starred Will Smith as the forensic pathologist who diagnosed a degenerative brain disease in football players.

In light of new developments related to traumatic brain injury and with March being Brain Injury Awareness Month, Virginia Commonwealth University hosted a Twitter chat with traumatic brain injury expert Alex Valadka, M.D., on March 30. Valadka, who is the chair of the Department of Neurosurgery in the VCU School of Medicine, has served as initiating investigator on a $33.7 million Department of Defense research consortium on traumatic brain injury. He is author and co-author of more than seven dozen scientific papers and was co-editor of the textbook “Neurotrama: Evidence-Based Answers to Common Questions.”

During the Twitter chat, Valadka discussed the causes of traumatic brain injuries, different types of traumatic brain injuries, current research on the topic and more. VCU hosts Twitter chats with medical experts on a variety of topics. Stay engaged with the conversation by following@VCUHealth on Twitter and searching for the hashtag #VCUHealthChat.

Below are Valadka’s replies to some of the questions raised on Twitter.

What is a traumatic brain injury?

A traumatic brain injury is a disruption of brain function by a mechanical force. It can also refer to penetrating brain injuries such as gunshot wounds.

How many people are affected by traumatic brain injuries?

There are more than 2.5 million TBI-related emergency department visits each year in the U.S. More than 2.2 million people who have sustained traumatic brain injuries are treated and released from the emergency department each year. There are almost 300,000 people hospitalized for traumatic brain injuries and later discharged every year. There are more than 50,000 deaths from traumatic brain injuries in the U.S. every year.

What causes traumatic brain injuries?

Motor vehicle crashes, falls, blows to the head from sports or other injuries and assaults are the most common causes. Falls are the most common cause in the elderly population.

What are the different types of traumatic brain injuries?

Traumatic brain injuries can be as mild as a concussion or as severe as being in a coma or dying.

What research is being done around traumatic brain injuries?

We still don’t have any medicines or other treatments to help the brain heal itself, but a lot of research is being done in that area. Organizing systems of care, such as emergency medical services, is another huge area of research, especially in planning for mass casualties.

How do traumatic brain injuries affect the brain and body?

Brain effects can include paralysis, loss of speech, coma or death. Fortunately, most cases have no permanent effects.

What are common obstacles that arise after a traumatic brain injury?

Severe cases can cause trouble with basic self-care such as feeding, bathing and dressing. Patients who appear to be recovered can have problems with memory, concentration, impulsivity and emotional outbursts. Families can also be affected by caregiver distress, depression and deterioration of family functioning.

What is the process for treating traumatic brain injuries?

Since no treatments are available to help the brain heal, our focus is on preventing additional injuries. For patients with sports-related concussions, this means no games or practice until they have recovered completely.

How quickly should treatment occur following a TBI diagnosis and why?

If a patient with a concussion or mild traumatic brain injury is stable or improving, treatment may not be needed. If a patient worsens or has a severe traumatic brain injury, they should seek medical attention promptly. Emergency surgery or other intervention may be needed. If a patient has a large blood clot after a traumatic brain injury, pressure inside the skull can rise and cut off blood flow to the brain.


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                Alex Valadka, M.D.
Alex Valadka, M.D.