What Are the Signs and Symptoms of a Traumatic Brain Injury
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is characterized by an external force that causes trauma to the brain. This may arise in many different forms, but the symptoms tend to be similar regardless of the type of injury. However, previous brain trauma and the severity of the injury is key in what symptoms to expect. Here’s a look at the signs and symptoms of a traumatic brain injury.
Primary versus Secondary TBI Damage
Any damage the brain sustains is likely to result in two types of symptoms: primary brain damage and secondary brain damage. Primary damage refers to the issues that arise immediately following the injury; this might include any fractures that occur, as well as contusions or bleeding and clotting. Secondary brain damage refers to the damage that develops in the time following the TBI. Cerebral swelling, increased blood pressure in the brain, and seizures are all examples of secondary brain damage.
General TBI Symptoms
While things like loss of consciousness are fairly easy to notice following TBI, it can take a few days before other symptoms begin to appear. In other words, while primary brain damage may cause certain symptoms, others may not be obvious until secondary brain damage begins. It could be weeks after TBI before the brain bleeds or swells enough to cause a noticeable change.
TBI symptoms may appear as physical, mental, or cognitive. Physical signs you may notice include persistent head or neck pain, difficulty balancing or maintaining balance, and nausea or vomiting. You may detect changes in your senses. Many people develop a sensitivity to lights or sounds, while other injuries may lead to blurry vision, a persistent ringing in your ears, or an obvious difference in the way things smell or taste.
Other common signs of TBI include fatigue or a complete lack of energy. Your normal sleep patterns may change (sleeping all the time versus difficulty falling or staying asleep). It is common to notice a change in the way you think. For example, you may have a sensation of fogginess or feel slow in your normal patterns of thinking or cognitive functions, or experience ongoing confusion. You also may feel lost (mentally or geographically), have difficulty remembering things, or concentrating on tasks. Additionally, TBI can cause alterations in mood and even personality. This may be evidenced as a acting differently from your normal mood (experiencing mood swings, inappropriate crankiness or anger, depression, etc). Seek emergency care immediately for these symptoms.
A Note on Concussions
Concussions are the most common type of TBI. They can be difficult to diagnose, because there is generally very little diagnostic evidence when using imaging tests. While concussions may seem relatively innocuous (largely because of their prevalence), they are not to be trifled with. Immediately following the injury you may lose consciousness. Even if you remain conscious, you may feel dazed, confused, or disoriented.
Like other TBI, it can take a few days for other symptoms to show up. Even if you feel silly going to the hospital, if you experience any of the signs of TBI, seek emergency care. Concussions can be serious and may lead to cerebral bleeding or swelling. Experts recommend seeking emergency care following any traumatic brain injury.