Traumatic brain injury is a problem that impacts millions of Americans every year. Over half of these cases are severe enough to require medical care. TBI usually results from a situation where there has been a head injury severe enough to cause brain damage. When a person gets a concussion, this is a mild form of TBI that usually does not require treatment. Having a previous TBI makes a person more at risk for having another one, and recovery may be slower than the first time. Half of all TBIs result from motor vehicle accidents, and military personnel are also a group that is at risk.
Because of the nature of TBI, most of its symptoms are psychological, although physical problems can develop, as well. These symptoms can last months or longer and include:
While most people get headaches from time to time, recurring headaches or headaches that are becoming worse over time can be a warning sign of TBI.
Another symptom of TBI that may not be very noticeable in the beginning is speech problems. Frequent slurred speech that is not the result of substance use can be a red flag and should be brought up to the person doing it, because they may not be aware of it.
People with TBI may sometimes experience issues with their motor control. They may feel weakness or numbness in their arms and legs, and may describe feeling “slow”. Dizziness and trouble with balance are also common indicators of TBI.
Because of the brain damage TBI causes, people affected with the condition often develop emotional problems and unusual behavior. They may become depressed, irritable, have heightened anxiety, or become confused. This is something to pay close attention to if the person had none of these symptoms before suffering the injury.
One symptom of TBI that may go unnoticed is problems with a person’s cognition. This can include trouble thinking clearly, problems concentrating, and memory problems. TBI can also affect a person’s sleep, further compounding these symptoms.
Frequent nausea and in some cases vomiting are another sign of TBI. In some cases, the person may have this symptom shortly after their injury, but then it goes away. This does not mean that they have recovered however, and it is still recommended that they see a physician. As with all other TBI symptoms, the warning signs may not appear until months after the initial head injury, so the injured person should be monitored carefully to make sure they’re alright.
The Complexity of Treating TBI
Some symptoms of TBI, for example ringing in the ears, can also be caused by other conditions such as hearing damage. Crossover like this can complicate the diagnosis for healthcare professionals treating veterans, who often have both conditions. The emotional damage caused by post-traumatic stress disorder can also be mistaken for TBI. Some people with TBI may not want to admit that they are experiencing difficulties, and thus never seek treatment without outside prompting.
It’s important to note that TBI can affect children, as well. Signs and symptoms in children include the ones listed above, as well as difficulties eating or nursing, and constant crying that is not solved by comforting them. Treating TBI in children requires extra care, because they are often unable to articulate what exactly is bothering them.
TBI Should Not be Ignored
In rare cases, TBI can cause a blood clot in the brain. This is very dangerous and is the result of TBI that has not received medical attention. If someone displays any of the symptoms listed here following a head injury, it’s recommended that they see a physician about it as soon as possible. Healthcare professionals are able to diagnose TBI using a neurological exam and brain imaging tests.