Traumatic brain injuries are already known to be potentially devastating to cognitive functioning and physical health, but a new study shows that it can also lead to conditions that raise the risk of debilitating gut damage.
According to research conducted at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, serious brain injuries can trigger changes to intestinal functioning that dramatically raise the risk of bacterial infection.
These serious infections can trigger inflammation and immune responses that intensify brain damage weeks after the trauma was sustained. A vicious cycle emerges, where patients suffer from bacterial infections that in turn lead to serious neural tissue loss.
For this reason, injury victims who suspect they may have sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) should be exceptionally cautious when it comes to their health. They should have their condition fully analyzed by a medical specialist, and they should anticipate possible complications similar to the ones revealed in the recent study.
The study conducted at the University of Maryland established a firm two-way link between brain functioning and intestinal functioning.
By observing test subject mice, researchers were able to correlate a significantly higher incidence of infection among test groups with TBI. Mice inflicted with TBI showed evidence that their colon became more permeable after their trauma. These changes persisted over a month after the injury occured.
Gut changes in mice dramatically raised the risk of infection for bacteria like E. coli. Researchers also noted a greater incidence of brain inflammation and loss of neurons in the hippocampus for test groups with TBI.
Put in more simple terms: the brain injuries caused gut changes that raised the risk of infection, which then resulted in additional delayed damage to vital brain tissues.
“The results suggest that TBI may trigger a cycle where brain injuries cause gut dysfunction, which then has the potential to worsen the original brain injury,” says R&D Magazine reporter Kenny Walter.
Data gathered during the study could help assist treatment of traumatic brain injury victims, but it also demonstrates worrying consequences that were previously not well-understood in the medical community.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), traumatic brain injuries cause over 1.3 million emergency department visits, 275,000 extended hospital stays and 52,000 deaths in the United States every year. Around half a million of these ED visits come from children aged 0 to 14 years old.
Falls are the leading cause of TBI, especially for children under 5 and adults over 75. However, motor vehicle accidents lead to the highest rate of TBI-related deaths, especially among those 20 to 24 years old.
Symptoms of a TBI following an injury include:
Carefully observe any injury victims, especially those who have sustained a fall or were involved in a motor vehicle accident. Have them examined by a medical professional and specialist.
Treating TBI victims as early as possible improves the chances of a more-positive outcome, and it enables healthcare providers to observe for complications like the increased risk of infection described above.