Because our brains are so complex and so important to the functioning of our entire bodies, brain damage can have a wide range of symptoms. Minor damage may have no noticeable effects, but severe damage can prevent a baby from ever living independently. Let’s take a look at the symptoms of different types of brain damage that can occur during pregnancy, birth, and early infancy.
Early Diagnosis Of Brain Damage
When an adult is injured, signs such as confusion and difficulty speaking can indicate brain damage. In babies, doctors must use physical signs and symptoms to determine if the child has suffered brain damage. Some symptoms are evident at or shortly after birth while others take time to show.
Physical indicators of brain damage include an abnormally large or small head, seizures, and difficulty focusing the eyes. If your doctor suspects your little one has suffered a physical trauma during delivery, she may use an MRI or CT scan to look for bleeding or swelling in the brain or skull fractures.
If delivery was long and traumatic or if the mother or baby suffered a serious infection, the baby is at an increased risk for brain damage. Your doctor may ask you to look for signs such as lethargy, trouble sleeping while lying down, extreme fussiness, and trouble feeding. These are indicators that the baby has suffered some damage.
Diagnosis In Infancy Or Early Childhood
There may not be any physical symptoms of brain damage or the symptoms may be very difficult to detect right at birth. Some types of damage will only become apparent as your little one grows and develops.
Brain damage can cause a range of physical symptoms, including seizures, tremors, paralysis, and sleep disorders. It can also cause headaches, although it is very difficult to determine if a baby has headache.
Brain damage can affect your child’s coordination and muscle control. These are called “neuromotor problems.” Children with brain damage may have delayed physical milestones such as sitting up, crawling, and walking. Brain damage can affect the ability to initiate and control muscle movements, making it hard to perform everyday tasks such as picking up a fork or putting on clothes. Children with severe brain damage may never be able to do these things without assistance. Brain damage may also affect your child’s physical development in other ways. Some types of brain damage cause paralysis of some or all of the limbs. Paralyzed limbs are often stunted and may be deformed due to atypical growth processes. Children with severe brain damage may be unable to control bodily functions such as urination, bowel movements, and drooling.
Cognitive And Intellectual Symptoms
Brain damage often causes developmental delays. Some children with mild brain damage will have difficulty concentrating, paying attention, and controlling their impulses. These symptoms are similar to ADD and ADHD – many children aren’t diagnosed with brain damage until they enter school and are diagnosed with these or similar learning disabilities. Damage to the brain may cause glitches that make reading or math more difficult for the child. Brain damage may also cause memory and retention problems. Children with brain damage may struggle to learn critical thinking skills.
Sensory perceptions may be affected by brain damage. For example, brain damage often increases the child’s sensitivity to pain, light, and other stimuli. Children with brain damage may struggle with depth perception and balance.
More severe brain damage can affect the child’s ability to communicate clearly or to speak at all. They may be unable to learn to read or write (due to either cognitive or physical symptoms) and may need to be placed in special education classes.
Brain damage can also cause emotional and behavioral disturbances such as extreme aggression and anger. Children with brain damage may act out in socially inappropriate ways and struggle to control their impulses. These are called “neurobehavioral problems” and are often controllable with therapy and medication.
Specific Conditions Caused By Brain Damage
In some cases, brain damage causes a specific condition with a specific set of symptoms. Cerebral palsy is a condition caused by damage to the part of the brain that controls movement and coordination. Children with cerebral palsy may have tremors and seizures. Children with severe cerebral palsy may be unable to stand or walk on their own and may require intensive care. Click here for more detailed information on cerebral palsy.
Brain damage can also cause seizure disorders, or “epilepsy.” Seizures are caused by unusual electrical activity in the brain. We commonly think of seizures as shaking and twitching, but not every seizure causes convulsions. Seizures may also cause loss of balance, uncontrollable eye movements, loss of bladder and bowel control, and temporary breathing trouble. Some seizures just cause behavioral changes, such as rocking back and forth and not responding to stimuli.
Brain damage may cause psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, and psychosis. These disorders may not arise until adolescence or even later and may be marked by symptoms such as extreme lethargy and sadness, behavioral problems, hearing voices, hallucinating, or extreme paranoia. These disorders may also be caused by environmental or genetic factors.
One study found that children who suffered injuries to the cerebellum during pregnancy or delivery had a higher risk of developing autism. The causes of autism are not well understood and experts believe that genetic factors play the largest role in the disorder, but brain damage may increase the risk.
Brain Damage Is A Spectrum
The more severe the damage, the more severe the symptoms. Mild brain damage may not ever be noticeable. More serious cases may cause noticeable physical and cognitive disabilities and may require regular medical care. In extreme cases, a child with brain damage may never be able to live independently.
If you notice symptoms of brain damage in your child, you should seek medical attention immediately to find the cause and prevent more serious side effects.