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The “Brain Tsunami”

Time is crucial in brain injury recovery. Most community members likely consider the harm caused by a traumatic brain injury to be similar to that found in all other traumatic injuries. The assumption is that first there is a significant trauma, the damage is done, and then the brain begins a slow process to heal as much as possible. This is not exactly true. Over the years our Chicago brain injury attorneys have to come to appreciate that the harm caused by brain injuries worsens in the aftermath of the initial trauma. This is a critical factor which makes quick thinking and appropriate action vital in the immediate aftermath of the injury.

An article in The Atlantic discussed this reality, dubbing it the “Brain Tsunami.” It was explained how brain tsunamis are neurological events which occur often days after the initial trauma, leading the significant brain damage beyond that caused directly by the initial accident. Experts explain that the tsunamis are actually widespread brain depolarization of cells that spread slowly but persistently across the victim’s brain. This leads to widespread dysfunction. Medical researchers are now working hard to better understand these waves of brain damage in order to prevent patients from losing large portions of their brain functioning. The story explains that the depolarization of the brain days after injury has long been known. However, it is only recently that researchers confirmed that these brain tsunamis are actually the cause of further brain damage for these patients. The discoveries were made as part of focused attention on the injuries sustained by service members who suffered this harm while in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many service members have been left with significant injury and few viable treatment plans.

This latest study involved over one hundred brain injury patients nationwide. The involved participants underwent neurosurgery, and they were then followed throughout their post-operative care to gauge their outcome. In total, about 58% of those involved in the study experienced brain tsunamis. These victims had a surge of cell depolarizations in their cortex leading to significant harm to their functioning. The full extent of the harm was determined by placing a linear strip of electrodes on the patient’s brains. The researchers actually hoped that they could figure out a way to stop the spread of the cortical depolarization. Unfortunately, the efforts to do so in this case were not all that successful, and researchers are still not sure how the prevention can be achieved.

One researcher, trying to put a positive spin on the situation, summarized by noting that, “Our ability to monitor and understand what happens in the brain after a severe injury hasn’t advanced significantly in decades. T he brain is like a black box, but the process of spreading depolarizations now gives us a window into the box.”

Our Chicago brain injury lawyers understand that much of this research can produce more questions than it does answers. Experts are still a long way away from figuring out how to specifically limit these tsunamis. However, other research has made some inroads in to improved outcomes overall for brain injury victims.

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