When it comes to injuries, head trauma — also called a traumatic brain injury (TBI) — is among the most severe and potentially life-altering types. Traumatic brain injuries can vary in severity, but does this mean a minor injury isn’t serious? This post explores the nature of traumatic brain injuries, including the different types and severities, how they happen, and the long-term impact of a TBI.
What Is a Traumatic Brain Injury?
A TBI is a type of injury resulting from a violent blow or jolt to the head. It commonly happens through direct contact — such as hitting the skull off your car dashboard — but it can also occur indirectly, such as if your body is suddenly and violently jerked forward and back, causing your brain to rattle inside your skull.
Whether the impact is direct or indirect has little bearing on its severity — an indirect jolt that causes the blood vessels to burst can be just as dangerous as a blow to the head with a heavy object.
How Brain Injuries Are Categorized
A traumatic brain injury generally fits into one of three categories:
Each type varies, though they can share similar symptoms.
A mild TBI is also known as a concussion, and it’s caused by a sudden movement that causes the brain to bounce or twist within the skull.
A concussion is often associated with a sports injury, such as when an athlete is tackled to the ground. But it’s also common after a fall, auto accident, or physical assault.
The symptoms of concussion can vary, but the most common are headaches, dizziness, sickness or nausea, confusion, and sensitivity to light.
Individuals with a concussion generally don’t experience loss of consciousness, not even momentarily. This, combined with the fact that a concussion is labeled a “minor traumatic brain injury,” may make you think this injury isn’t severe. A mild TBI is often not life-threatening, but that doesn’t mean it’s not serious. It is still a brain injury and can have a lasting cognitive impact.
Moderate TBIs, as the name suggests, are slightly more severe than mild brain injuries but not as extreme as a full-blown severe injury.
Individuals with a moderate TBI will usually experience the same symptoms as someone with a concussion — although they may be more pronounced, such as feeling confused or disoriented for a longer period. The main mark of a moderate TBI is loss of consciousness, lasting anywhere from several minutes to a few hours.
A moderate brain injury can also cause memory or communication problems. Often, brain injury victims can form thoughts in their minds and know what they want to say, but they may struggle with the how. This is called dysarthria, where brain damage makes it difficult for a person to control the muscles that allow them to speak.
Another common symptom is irritability and trouble regulating mood, which is often only exacerbated by other symptoms, such as loss of coordination, trouble with memory, and an inability to communicate.
At the far end of the scale are severe brain injuries. The tell-tale sign of a severe TBI is prolonged periods of unconsciousness lasting hours or longer. Individuals may also experience repeated bouts of vomiting and have clear fluid draining from the nose or ears.
This type is the most serious and can have a life-changing impact. Even with immediate medical intervention and long-term care, individuals might have permanent cognitive and physical disabilities.
The Impact of a Brain Injury
Any type of brain injury can have a significant impact on a person’s life. Even a concussion can last for several weeks, preventing an individual from being able to work until their symptoms subside.
There’s also the risk of post-concussion syndrome (PCS). This is when concussion symptoms continue to persist even after several weeks. While PCS resolves eventually, a person may experience continued headaches, restlessness, fatigue, and nausea for several months.
While rare, a concussion can lead to complications, especially if left untreated. This is more common than you might think. As TBI symptoms are often delayed, a person may feel fine and delay treatment — if they get checked out at all.
One of the most dangerous complications is sustaining a second injury before your brain has healed — known as second-impact syndrome. This might be the case if you have a concussion after a sports injury and get back on the field soon after. Not only are you at risk of other injuries because you’re not performing at your best, but you’re also more at risk of sustaining a second — potentially more severe — brain injury. A second blow can cause damage far worse than if it was the first impact and can even be fatal.
Moderate and severe TBIs can have a much more significant impact on a person’s quality of life. Symptoms such as confusion may be prolonged, and personality changes and mood swings can affect an individual’s work or home life.
Your Legal Options
If your TBI was caused by the negligent actions of another person or company, you might be able to file a personal injury claim and recover compensation for your damages.
These damages might include your medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, mental anguish, and loss of enjoyment.
For example, if you sustain a moderate brain injury in a car accident caused by a drunk driver, you may be unable to work for months or even years and need substantial rehabilitation. On top of that, you may develop depression and have trouble regulating your emotions, affecting your relationships and causing you to withdraw.
In this case, you may be able to recover compensation from the drunk driver responsible for your accident, covering the cost of your medical bills (including future treatment), your lost wages, and additional damages for the mental anguish your injury has caused.
To successfully claim compensation, you’ll need proof that shows who or what caused your accident and that the accident resulted in your TBI. A personal injury lawyer can tell you if you have a claim and help you navigate the legal process.
Traumatic brain injuries may range from mild to severe, but even a concussion should be taken seriously. The brain is responsible for so many functions, but it’s also incredibly delicate, and even the slightest bump or knock can have long-lasting consequences.