Organic brain syndrome (OBS) is a term describing impaired mental function from a medical condition other than psychiatric illness. In the young, impaired brain function can be caused by trauma, toxins, tumors, and infection. In the elderly, the primary reason is the neurodegenerative disease. Early diagnosis and treatment are the keys to a good prognosis.
Red Flags of Organic Brain Injuries
There are many red flags that signal the presence of organic brain syndrome. Symptoms vary according to the parts of the brain that have been injured. The most obvious signs express as impaired cognitive ability. This can take the form of:
- memory loss
- behavioral changes
- difficulty understanding language
- problems performing daily activities
Causes of Organic Brain Injury
1. Physical trauma to the brain is a primary cause of OBS. The Mayo Clinic, a non-profit authority on medical care, cites the following causes of traumatic brain injury (TBI):
- Vehicular Collisions – Accidents involving cars, motorcycles, and bicycles are a common cause of TBI, both to passengers and pedestrians.
- Violence – Approximately 20% of traumatic brain injuries are the result of violence, such as child abuse, domestic fights, and gunshot wounds.1/
- Falls – Falls can occur within the home, at work, and outside. Typical home accidents are tumbling out of bed, slipping in the bathroom, tripping on stairs, and falling off ladders. At work, employees often fall on slippery floors or trip on mats and uneven carpet. During winter, slipping on ice and snow are common causes of falls.
- Sports Injuries – TBI in young people is often caused by playing sports. Those that deliver the greatest impact are boxing, baseball, football, hockey, lacrosse, skateboarding, and soccer.
2. Infection is another cause of TBI. The brain is subject to several types of infection.
- Meningitis – This is an infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord.
- Encephalitis – This manifests as swelling of brain tissue and can be caused by a virus or bacteria. Mosquitoes can transmit the viruses for several types of encephalitis, including West Nile, St. Louis, and Western Equine encephalitis.
- Septicemia – Also known as blood poisoning, this kind of infection can develop after surgery.
3. Neurodegenerative disease is a common cause of OBS in the elderly. Examples are Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF OBS
Following are signs and symptoms of the three most common causes of OBS:
- Traumatic Brain Injury – Symptoms of traumatic brain injury (TBI) can be sudden or delayed, occurring several days or even weeks later. Those related to the senses are blurred vision, ringing in the ears, and dizziness. Symptoms affecting the emotions are mood swings and changes in behavior. Cognitive ability can be impaired, such as difficulty with concentration, memory, and thinking. Other common symptoms are a headache, lightheadedness, and confusion. In moderate or severe cases of TBI, there may be convulsions, seizures, lack of coordination, and slurred speech.
- Infection – Symptoms of brain disease are dramatic. They include high fever, headache, stiff neck, confusion, nausea, and vomiting.
- Neurodegenerative Disease – A person with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia may have problems remembering names and recent events. They may have difficulty speaking, writing, and reading. There may be anxiety and aggression. Wandering behavior may be present. An elder may neglect personal hygiene, such as taking care of their teeth and hair.
Diagnosis Organic Brain Injuries
The symptoms of OBS can be similar to those of psychiatric illness, which can make diagnosis difficult. Diagnostic imaging and tests of mental ability are used to distinguish psychiatric symptoms from those of organic brain syndrome. These tests include:
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
- Computed Tomography (CT)
- Positron Emission Tomography (PET)
- Cerebrospinal Fluid Markers
Treatment of Organic Brain Injuries
Treatment of OBS depends on the type and severity of the injury. Healthline, a consumer resource for health information, cites the following procedures for OBS:
- Traumatic Brain Injury – TBI is treated with pain medication, such as indomethacin to treat a headache. “Brain rest” may be prescribed, to avoid activities that tax the brain, such as school, work, and sports. Physical therapy is used to rehabilitate impaired faculties.
- Infection – OBS caused by infection is treated with antibiotics.
- Neurodegenerative Disease – Medications may be prescribed for behavioral symptoms.