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March 26th, 2010
02:42 PM ET

Young kids at high risk for traumatic brain injury

By Caitlin Hagan
CNN Medical Associate Producer

Spring is here and the nice weather means plenty of time for kids to play outside. But watch out for those falls on the playground: A new CDC report says children up to age 4 are part of the high at-risk population for traumatic brain injury (TBI). Teenagers 15 to 19 and senior citizens older than 75 also make the list.

When someone has a traumatic brain injury, normal brain function is interrupted. It can be caused by any sudden blow or jolt to the brain. TBI claims nearly a third of the injury-related deaths in the U.S. every year. In teenagers 15-19 the injury is usually caused by car accidents. Falling is the chief cause of TBIs in senior citizens and young children.

Babies and toddlers are still developing their sense of balance, which is why they often they take a tumble. But as any parent will tell you, falling is a normal part of childhood. Most falls don't cause anything nearly as serious as a traumatic brain injury but being around stairs or furniture with hard edges, or walking up an incline, could increase the chances of it happening.

So why should parents be concerned?

Speed is essential when treating traumatic brain injury. Most neurologists agree that there's a 60- to 90-minute window from the time the injury was suffered to the point where treatment must begin. But most TBIs are not obvious immediately after developing. And that makes detecting them very difficult, especially in a young child.

"With a younger child, one who is preverbal or just learning the language, it's hard to tell what they're feeling. It's hard for them to explain, " says Dr. Lisa McGuire of the CDC's Injury Center.

Dr. McGuire says whenever a child suffers a blow to the head, regardless of its cause, parents should watch for any of the following: sudden drowsiness or inability to be alert, difficulty recognizing familiar people or places, sudden whining or irritability, loss of interest in favorite toys, numbness of one side of the body, vomiting, or neck pain.

Every second counts when someone has a traumatic brain injury. Consult a doctor immediately if you notice your child has any of these symptoms.

"The main thing to always remember is that TBI is a major health problem," says Dr. McGuire. "And those who have TBI who do not die are the ones who go to the emergency room."

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soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Lorin

    Having had a total of 3 recorded TBI's from age 15-21 I agree completely that kids are mor at risk of receiving TBI's partly due to their growing active lifestyle. I have to make special precautions to keep myself and my son from receiving them. It is difficult with my son being in the toddler stage and unable to fully control his balance its a daily struggle for me. I want to relay to him the negative affects it has had on me but more than that trying to get my husband to not let him "just be a boy" as he likes to tell me he's doing.
    I dont want anyone to go through the difficultities that I have after these TBI's!

    March 31, 2010 at 17:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Dixie

    My new book UNTHINKABLE: A Mother's Tragedy, Terror, and Triumph through a Child's Traumatic Brain Injury gives great insight into what families have to endure after aTBI and is a Caregivers Companion. http://www.dixiecoskie.com
    With hope,

    April 14, 2010 at 14:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. genithgarcia

    " I really enjoyed reading the whole article. I learned alot. Keep up the good work."

    July 18, 2010 at 21:34 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.