InsightsInsight - Personal Injury and Industrial Disease - POSTED: August 17 2011
Head injuries and balance disorders
There is every possibility a head injury might affect a person’s balance function, but all too often this is overlooked by both doctors and lawyers. This was recently highlighted in a talk given by Consultant Neuro-otologist Dr S S Surenthiran at our recent brain injury seminar.
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Dr Surenthiran runs the Balance Centre in the Neurosciences Unit at Medway Maritime Hospital. All those involved in the care and treatment of a brain injury patient should be alert to the possibility that they may also be suffering from a balance disorder. For more detail please follow the link to a note on the subject from Dr Surenthiran explaining the implications of suffering a balance disorder, the symptoms of which are often confused with the neurological symptoms primarily associated with a brain injury.
At our event Dr Surenthiran explained how the symptoms of a head injury often appeared exactly the same as an untreated balance disorder. He and Nicky Harris (a specialist vestibular physiotherapist vestibular at the Medway Balance Centre) gave examples of what those symptoms might be:
- Dizziness / balance problems
- Difficulty concentrating and forgetfulness
- Headaches, nausea and blurred vision
- Anxiety, irritability, depression and mood swings
- Sleep disturbance
Dr Surenthiran explained how, in the someone with a normal balance function, control of balance is automatic; normally we do not have to think about our balance. However if there has been damage to the inner ear balance organs or the parts of the brain which deal with balance function, the brain has to work overtime to minimise the patient’s balance problems. We heard in the seminar how balance problems (dizziness, giddiness, vertigo, unsteadiness, vestibular problems) are treatable, but the treatment can be lengthy.
The symptoms of the balance disorder have to be distinguished from head injury related symptoms. The underlying condition causing the balance problem has to be diagnosed and appropriately treated. The brain has to be “re-trained” to compensate for the chronic background unsteadiness, dizziness and giddiness these patients have been suffering from. However, following treatment, the improvement can be striking and life-changing.
Dr Surenthiran presented a video case study of a patient who recalled how before treatment his life had felt “unreal” and how he had felt disabled and severely restricted by his balance problems. However, after treatment, although still having problems, he was significantly better and his quality of life had improved dramatically. After recounting his experiences in the video presentation, this patient’s message to anyone suffering similar symptoms was clear – they need to get to a specialist expert in the management of balance disorders as soon as possible “to get reconnected with the world much sooner than in my experience”.
Lawyers and medico legal experts in personal injury cases should be acutely aware of the possibility that a brain injury patient may well be suffering from a balance disorder as a result of the brain injury. The risk is that the signs and symptoms of a balance disorder are missed in the ‘noise’ of the patient’s other symptoms and injuries and cases can be settled without balance dysfunction being picked up. If that happens, the patient’s overall recovery and rehabilitation are impaired. In the worst case scenario that could lead to the patient missing out on treatment, going on indefinitely with disabling symptoms and missing out on obtaining funding for private treatment as part of their claim. If you recognise these symptoms in yourself or a loved one following an incident you may be able to claim compensation.
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