Close-up of helmet on the road, with a motorcycle and its rider lying prone in the background.The brain is arguably the most complex organ in the body, and protecting it is extremely important for survival. However, there are times a traumatic brain injury (TBI) can occur regardless of safety measures taken.

While not all head injuries affect the brain, a traumatic brain injury will. The severity of injury can range from mild to severe. Most TBIs are mild and commonly referred to as concussions. However, moderate or severe TBIs can lead to permanent brain damage, disabilities, and behavioral changes. 

WHAT IS A TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY?

A traumatic brain injury is a type of acquired brain damage. It occurs when external harm, such as a bludgeoning, happens to the brain. Brain damage caused by internal factors such as illness do not qualify. A TBI will most likely occur when something violently hits the head or an object penetrates the brain tissue itself. 

Anyone who experiences a head injury should seek medical attention as soon as possible. Imaging tests are used to confirm the diagnosis and the prognosis of the traumatic brain injury. Health care professionals may conduct a neurological exam, skull and neck X-rays, or a CT scan to determine the extent and severity of any injury. 

SYMPTOMS OF A CONCUSSION

Immediately after a mild TBI, a person will likely show:

  • Loss of consciousness (for only a few minutes)
  • Headache and/or neck pain
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Sensory issues such as blurred vision or ringing in the ears

Other symptoms may develop hours or days after the injury. These include:

  • Fatigue 
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Bad taste in mouth
  • Trouble with memory and concentration
  • Behavioral changes such as impulsivity

Most people recover from concussion symptoms after a few weeks. Yet one in five people will develop post-concussion syndrome, in which symptoms persist after six weeks. The more concussions a person experiences, the more likely they are to experience long-term symptoms.

SYMPTOMS OF A MODERATE OR SEVERE TBI

A person with a moderate to severe TBI will typically exhibit some symptoms of a mild brain injury. In addition, they can also experience the following:

  • Persistent headache that gets worse with time
  • Nausea and/or vomiting 
  • Loss of physical coordination 
  • Slurred speech
  • Seizures
  • Long-lasting cognitive impairments 
  • Mental health issues such as depression

These symptoms may develop hours, days, or even months after the injury. They can cause severe impairment, especially if multiple symptoms overlap. The prognosis of a TBI depends on many factors such as age, overall health, and the location of the injury.

HOW COMMON ARE TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURIES?

Traumatic brain injuries gained mainstream interest due in large part to the veterans returning home after sustaining wounds from improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. At the height of the wars, 78% of all combat injuries reported were the result of explosive munitions. The concussive effects of these blasts made a mild TBI or concussion one of the most common combat-related injuries. In fact, around 15% of all U.S. troops who engaged in active combat in Iraq or Afghanistan may have suffered some level of traumatic brain injury.

The general population can also experience TBIs. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that since 2001, there has been a slow but steady rise in the number of people who experience traumatic brain injury in the United States. Over 2.5 million people are affected each year. For men, the spike was as much as 40%, while women saw a 20% increase overall.

Around 4% of the general population dies each year from preventable TBIs, such as those caused by falls or automobile accidents. Because a TBI can ultimately lead to decreased mental capacity, monitoring healthy brain activity after such an event is crucial. 

TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY AND MENTAL HEALTH

It is very common for someone with a traumatic brain injury to develop mental health issues. According to a 2017 literature review, 75% of people develop a psychiatric diagnosis within 5 years of a TBI. Most post-TBI diagnoses (57%) are first-time diagnoses. In other words, they can’t be blamed on a preexisting condition.

Depression is the most common diagnosis in people with a TBI. Over half of people with a serious TBI will develop depression within a year. Other common mental health issues include:

Cognitive impairment is also common. The type of impairment may depend on which part of the brain was injured. One person may have trouble concentrating or organizing ideas. Another may act impulsively and have angry outbursts. 

People with emotional and cognitive issues can get help for their symptoms. While it is not always possible to reverse brain damage, an individual can cope with their situation by learning new skills and behaviors. The right therapist can help an individual improve their quality of life. 

References:

  1. Beatty, C. (2009, June 22). Interventions for behavioral problems after brain injury. Retrieved from https://www.brainline.org/article/interventions-behavioral-problems-after-brain-injury
  2. Concussions: How they can affect you now and later. (2016, November 17). University of Utah. Retrieved from https://healthcare.utah.edu/healthfeed/postings/2016/11/concussion.php
  3. Juengst, S. B., Kumar, R. G., Wagner, A. K. (2017). A narrative literature review of depression following traumatic brain injury: Prevalence, impact, and management challenges. Psychology Research and Behavior Management, 10(1), 175-186. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5476717
  4. Living with brain injury. (n.d.). Brain Injury Association of America. Retrieved from http://www.biausa.org/living-with-brain-injury.htm
  5. Rates of TBI-related emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and deaths by sex — United States, 2001–2010. (February 2014). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/data/rates_bysex.html
  6. Traumatic brain injury information page. (n.d.). National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Retrieved from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Traumatic-Brain-Injury-Information-Page
  7. Traumatic brain injury. (2014, May 15). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/traumatic-brain-injury/basics/treatment/con-20029302 
  8. Traumatic brain injury. (n.d.). S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved from http://www.publichealth.va.gov/docs/vhi/traumatic-brain-injury-vhi.pdf
  9. Traumatic brain injury. (2017, October 3). U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/traumaticbraininjury.html