Understanding Brain Injuries & How to Manage Risks

Each year, 3.6 million American children and adults suffer brain injuries. Nearly 3 million of those are considered traumatic. Traumatic brain injury (TBI) has left more than 5 million American children and adults living with a permanent disability.

“Brain injury is a spectrum, but the majority of patients are on the minor end of that spectrum, and have symptoms that generally resolve and do not result in permanent disability. Primary Care physicians and Neurologists can help manage these symptoms.” —Dr. Maxim Hammer

March is Brain Injury Awareness Month. Here are some of the dangers, risks, and steps you can take to help protect yourself and the ones you love.

Who’s at risk?

Accidents, illnesses, and strokes can put us all at risk. But those most at risk are children age 4 and under, young adults between 15 and 24, men and women age 60+, and males of any age. It’s easy to understand why. Young children and older adults are the highest fall risks. Teens and 20-somethings are involved in sports and more prone to risk-taking behavior. And men, in general, are far more likely to take part in contact sports and work at jobs that require hardhats.


What are the leading causes of brain injury?

Falls, far and away, account for the largest number of TBI at 47%, followed by unintentional impacts from objects (17.1%), motor vehicle accidents (13.2%), and assaults (8.3%). Additional causes of all brain injuries (traumatic and non-traumatic) also include: sports, electrical shock, infectious disease, seizure disorder, oxygen deprivation, substance abuse/overdose, toxic exposure, and stroke. Among our service men and women, combat and explosive blasts are a constant risk.

What kinds of complications can result?

The potential aftereffects of a brain injury are legion and can impact every facet of life. They can range, as listed below, from temporary minor annoyances to catastrophic and permanent impairment:

  • Altered consciousness, including: coma, minimal consciousness, a vegetative state, and brain death
  • Physical complications, such as: seizures, headaches, vertigo, loss of taste or smell, double vision, hearing loss, facial paralysis or numbness
  • Difficulty learning, reasoning, and concentrating
  • Problems with decision-making, planning, problem-solving, and starting/finishing tasks
  • Communication difficulties, including: speaking, writing, understating speech and writing communication from others, and following or taking part in conversations
  • Changes in behaviors and emotions, including: anxiety, panic, and insomnia
  • Sensory problems, such as: ringing in the ears, blind spots, double vision, and impaired hand-eye coordination; tingling, pain or itching in the skin

Beyond these aftereffects, brain injuries can also lead to long-term conditions, such as dementia or Parkinson’s disease. All told, these complications make the strongest argument for taking every reasonable precaution.


Taking actions that can help help keep brain injuries from happening is the best medicine. Some simple steps that you can take include:

  • Help prevent falls by installing handrails in bathrooms, using a nonslip bathtub mat, removing area rugs, and improving lighting; install handrails on both sides of staircases
  • Protect your kids with safety gates and window guards; choose playgrounds with shock-absorbing material on the ground
  • Remove tripping hazards like toys and shoes from walkways and stairs
  • Wear a seatbelt and always secure children in approved safety seats or boosters
  • Never drive impaired
  • Wear a helmet when riding a bike, skateboard, or motorcycle, when playing contact sports, and while skiing or horseback riding

At St. Clair Health, our neurological services and experienced physicians provide personalized care that is focused on one thing: your recovery. To learn more, please call 412.942.6300.

St. Clair Hospital

Dr. Maxim Hammer earned his medical degree at Albany Medical College, Albany N.Y., and completed his neurology residency at Cleveland Clinic, where he was elected chief resident. He also completed a Vascular Neurology Fellowship at UPMC. Dr. Maxim Hammer was named a “Best Doctor” in Neurology in Pittsburgh Magazine’s 2020 Best Doctors report. Before joining St. Clair, he held numerous titles, including: Vice Chairman, Clinical Affairs, Department of Neurology; Clinical Director of Neurology; and Director of Stroke Services at UPMC Mercy Hospital. Board-certified in both neurology and vascular neurology, he also currently serves as an associate professor, Department of Neurology, at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Dr. Maxim Hammer practices with St. Clair Medical Services at St. Clair Hospital Outpatient Center—Peters Township.

To contact Dr. Maxim Hammer, please call 412.942.6300.