About Traumatic Brain Injury

Overview

A traumatic brain injury, or TBI, is a neurological condition that occurs when the brain is damaged. This brain damage can occur through a forceful whack to the head, or an object penetrating the brain, such as a bullet. The brain controls movements, thoughts, feelings, behaviors and sensations, so physical and psychological changes may result from a traumatic brain injury.

Symptoms

The severity of a TBI varies, depending on the location of the brain damage and the size of the affected area. Some symptoms of a mild TBI, or concussion, include headache, confusion, dizziness, blurred vision, concentration difficulties, moodiness, brief unconsciousness, and not remembering events immediately before and after the injury. A more severe TBI may be indicated by a consistent headache, nausea, vomiting, slurred speech, prolonged unconsciousness, aggressiveness, and numbness or weakness in the arms, legs, hands and feet. Paralysis or even death may occur with a severe TBI. In children, symptoms of TBI include irritability, lack of energy, decreased appetite, loss of interest in activities or toys, and changes in sleep.

Diagnosis

Quick tests are available to diagnose a TBI, given that brain injuries are often emergency conditions. The Glasgow Coma Scale evaluates the severity of brain damage by checking an individual’s ability to perform such activities as move, speak, and blink their eyes. Higher scores on the Glasgow Coma Scale indicate milder brain damage. CT scans can uncover problems in the brain such as bleeding, injured brain tissue, swelling and blood clots.

Treatment

A mild TBI often requires rest and over-the-counter pain relievers. Treatment for a more severe TBI usually involves hospitalization. Medications may be used to treat a TBI. Diuretics help reduce the amount of fluid in the brain. Anti-seizure drugs may be prescribed to help prevent seizures, which may occur with more severe TBIs. Sometimes surgery is needed to remove blood clots from the brain area, repair skull fractures, or the make a small hole in the skull to allow fluid to drain from the brain. Physical, occupational and speech therapists help those who need to relearn everyday skills, such as walking, talking or eating.

Causes

A powerful blow to the head may cause the brain to collide with the skull. This collision may result in damage to brain tissue and bleeding in or around the brain. Falls are the most common cause of TBIs with the most occurrences in children ages 0 to 4 years, and adults ages 75 years and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Other common causes of TBIs include sports-related head injuries, gunshot wounds, child abuse, and accidents involving automobiles, motorcycles and bicycles.

Prevalence

About 1.4 million people suffer from a TBI each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those, about 475,000 occur among children ages 0 to 14 years. Among those with a TBI, about 50,000 die and 235,000 require hospitalization.

About this Author

Dr. Mary Lehrman is a licensed psychologist with a Ph.D. in health psychology. She has been published in academic journals and has more than 10 years of experience helping people improve their health.