What is a TBI? Traumatic Brain Injury Cause & Symptoms

what is a tbi

It is not uncommon to sustain a bump to the head now and again. Roughhousing or general clumsiness often results in a bruise here and there. Although, what seems like a minor headache after an accident can still be a cause for concern.

What is a TBI? A traumatic brain injury is defined as an injury that occurs due to a jolt or violent strike to the head. This type of injury is categorized as a closed brain injury. A brain injury may also occur when an object pierces through brain tissue. This, on the other hand, is categorized as a penetrating injury.

This type of injury may result in brain damage that may affect the brain cells temporarily, disrupting normal brain function and causing sensory, cognitive, and physical symptoms to arise. But more serious brain damage may lead to long-term complications or death.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that over 64,000 deaths occurred due to traumatic brain injuries in 2020. In the same year, there were 223,135 hospitalizations to treat TBI-related injuries.

These traumatic injuries have affected millions of Americans over the years. Fortunately, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues working with research and clinical communities to further their knowledge and clinical studies in order to produce new medical products for the public’s use.

What causes a Traumatic Brain Injury?

A head injury does not always require a fracture or loss of consciousness to occur. Traumatic brain injuries can vary in degree of damage depending on the force of impact and nature of the injury.

Some of the most common TBI causes include:

  • Falls – According to the CDC, nearly half of all TBI-related hospitalizations are the result of falls. Falls from a substantial height, down the stairs, or in the bath are some of the most common causes of traumatic brain injury. These accidents are especially common among older adults and young children.
  • Motor Vehicle Accidents – Motor vehicle crashes are one of the most common causes of brain injuries among young adults. The head injuries sustained in an auto accident may vary from mild to severe, depending on the nature of the accident, but can lead to axonal injury, skull fractures, damage to nerve fibers, and more. Many TBI-related deaths are linked to vehicular crashes.
  • Sports Injury – Accidents from sports activities such as skateboarding, soccer, boxing, and the like may lead to TBIs. Athletes are constantly reminded or urged to use proper protective headgear when engaging in these activities to prevent severe injuries.
  • Blast Injuries or Other Combat Injuries – Traumatic brain injuries may also result from explosive blasts or penetrating wounds caused by shrapnel or debris among military personnel.
  • Violence – Forms of violence such as assault, domestic abuse, child abuse, or firearm-related violence are other common causes of traumatic brain injuries.

Who is Most At Risk For a TBI?

Although traumatic brain injuries can affect all age groups, it is believed that some groups are more at risk than others. Health disparities are a risk factor that greatly affects the long-term effects and outcomes of this type of injury. These health disparities may change from group to group. The CDC defines a group through several factors such as race, ethnicity, sex, income, disability, geographic location, and more.

The following are groups the CDC has identified as the most at risk for a TBI:

Military Service Members & Veterans

Military disputes over the years have increased the number of veterans and military personnel living with head injuries. Although not all injuries were sustained due to combat exposure, some studies suggest that military personnel and veterans experience co-occurring health symptoms (depression, PTSD, etc.) alongside ongoing TBI symptoms. These individuals are also less likely to have access to the healthcare services they need, especially mental health services.

Individuals Experiencing Homelessness

Those experiencing homelessness were found to be more likely to have a history of TBI. Homeless individuals with a history of traumatic brain injury were also more likely to have poor physical and mental health, with a larger likelihood of having experienced substance abuse, childhood violence, and thoughts or attempts of suicide.

Racial and Ethnic Minorities

Higher rates of motor vehicle accidents, substance abuse, suicide, and difficulty in accessing the appropriate healthcare are all factors in the high rates of traumatic brain injuries among American Indian/Alaskan Natives. These numbers affected both the children and adults in this group.

Individuals in Correctional Facilities

Research has shown that nearly half of those in correctional or detention facilities have a history of a traumatic brain injury. These individuals afflicted with head trauma may not have the opportunity to undergo a screening process to determine whether they have sustained a TBI. They may also experience greater difficulty in obtaining the proper health care to treat their injury.

Domestic Violence Survivors

Traumatic brain injuries are very common among survivors of domestic violence, especially women. Children and teens, however, are not excluded from the scope of individuals who sustain TBIs due to domestic violence. Violent shaking can cause infants to acquire a type of head injury called shaken baby syndrome. 

Causes of TBI among survivors of intimate partner violence include being thrown, sustaining a blow to the head, or being shaken. Anoxic brain injuries may occur due to attempted drowning, strangulation, and asphyxiation.

The Most Common Symptoms of a TBI

TBI symptoms may vary from mild to severe, depending on several factors, such as how the injury was sustained, the victim’s age, proximity to immediate healthcare, and more. Some of these symptoms may immediately present themselves after a traumatic incident, while other signs, usually of secondary brain injuries, may appear much later.

Mild Injury Symptoms

Symptoms of a mild head injury may include:

  • Headaches
  • Brief loss of consciousness
  • Blurry vision or double vision
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Bad taste in the mouth
  • Mood and behavioral changes
  • Fatigue
  • A change in sleep patterns or difficulty sleeping
  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Dazed or in a state of confusion

Moderate to Severe Symptoms

The signs of a moderate to severe head injury may also include the symptoms of a mild brain injury. Some of these symptoms may appear only a few hours or days after this type of injury:

  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Dilation of one or both pupils 
  • Loss of vision
  • Persistent headache
  • Slurred speech
  • Profound confusion, restlessness, and agitation
  • Weakness or numbness in arms and legs
  • Repeated vomiting or nausea
  • Loss of coordination 
  • Loss of balance
  • Combativeness or unusual behavior
  • Poor impulse control
  • Impaired thinking skills and cognitive skills

Children’s Symptoms

Symptoms of injury in children may present themselves differently from that of adults. Very young children are also incapable of properly communicating these symptoms. Children with a traumatic brain injury may display the following symptoms:

  • Constant crying or inability to be consoled
  • Altered sleeping habits
  • Change in ability to pay attention
  • Easily irritable
  • Seizures
  • Loss of interest in their favorite toys or activities
  • Drowsiness
  • Feeling sad or depressed
  • Change in eating or nursing habits

When To See a Doctor

With these symptoms in mind, it is pertinent that an individual with a suspected brain injury receives prompt medical care.

Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) are classified as mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the extent of damage to the brain. A mild TBI may not initially seem serious, but it still requires immediate medical attention and an accurate diagnosis. A CT scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, or other imaging tests are usually ordered by the medical provider to determine the nature of the head injury. 

A traumatic brain injury victim must be monitored immediately after the injury and should be brought in for an emergency department visit if they experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Feeling confused or disoriented
  • Feeling nauseous or experiencing vomiting
  • Having a seizure
  • Trouble with balance
  • Loss of memory
  • Bleeding

The patient must be monitored for any alteration in brain function and behavior in the hours and days that follow. If they present any of the following symptoms, they must be taken to the emergency department immediately:

  • Persistent headache that won’t go away
  • Slurred speech or have problems reading and/or writing
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Mood swings
  • Difficulty sleeping and waking up
  • Feelings of numbness, dizziness, or weakness
  • Changes in vision or trouble moving their eyes or blurred vision

When in doubt, it is best to seek the opinion of a medical professional. Getting an expert’s opinion can help bring a sense of peace and avoid possible complications from developing later.

Help Is Available

If you or a loved one are suffering from a traumatic brain injury and require assistance, do not hesitate to contact the California Brain Injury Help Center.

Call us at (866) 576-0936. We can help you get the medical or legal aid you need.

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