Traumatic Brain Injury

A traumatic brain injury, often called TBI, can happen when you experience a bump, blow or jolt to the head.

The effects of head trauma can be minimal – lasting only a few days – or life-changing. TBI is a major cause of death and disability in the U.S.

Causes of TBI

The most common causes of TBI include falls, violence (being struck by or against something), car accidents or sports injuries. Concussions are fairly common among athletes.

Symptoms of TBI

Symptoms of TBI range from mild to moderate to severe, depending on the level of damage to your brain. Some symptoms occur right after a head injury, but others may not appear for days or even weeks after trauma. It’s important to be aware of the symptoms to watch for and continue to monitor them several days after the injury. Talk to your Mercy doctor, even if you feel fine.

Mild Traumatic Brain Injury

Symptoms of a mild TBI may include:

  • Loss of consciousness for a few seconds or minutes
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Lightheadedness/dizziness
  • Blurred vision/tired eyes
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Bad taste in your mouth
  • Fatigue/lethargy
  • Change in sleep patterns
  • Behavioral or mood changes
  • Trouble with memory, concentration, attention or thinking

Moderate to Severe Traumatic Brain Injury

If you have a moderate to severe TBI, you may experience some of the same symptoms listed above. Other signs may include:

  • Headache that worsens or won’t go away
  • Repeated vomiting or nausea
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Inability to wake up from sleep
  • Dilation of one or both pupils of your eyes
  • Slurred speech
  • Weakness/numbness in extremities
  • Loss of coordination
  • Increased confusion, restlessness or agitation

What to Expect After an Injury

Your doctor will likely assess your head injury with the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS). It’s a 15-point test that assesses your mental state. The higher the score, the less severe your injury.

You’ll have a physical exam where your doctor looks for signs of trauma such as bruising or swelling. A neurological exam will determine your nerve function by assessing muscle control and strength, eye movement and sensation. Your neurologist may order an X-Ray, CT scan or MRI scan to look for evidence of bleeding and swelling.

Treatment of a brain injury depends on the type and severity and can range from medication to surgery and hospitalization. Even the “mildest” TBIs should be taken seriously and treated promptly by your Mercy physician.

If you have a serious brain injury, you’ll likely need neurological rehabilitation to help restore full brain function.

Children and the Recovery Process

If your child has a mild concussion, Mercy physicians can identify it, teach you what to watch for and help determine when it’s okay to resume normal activity.

A serious brain injury may cause your child to lose certain muscle movements, and the ability to speak, see, hear or taste – depending on the area of the brain that was impacted. You may also notice a change in your child’s personality.  Long term neurological rehabilitation (including physical, occupational and speech therapy) may be necessary.

As a caregiver, your involvement with your child’s Mercy care team is critical to their recovery. Your child may face challenges through recovery and feel discouraged. You can help by focusing on opportunities for your child to maximize their existing skills and positively reinforcing developmental milestones. Mercy specialists will be with you every step of the way, helping guide you through the recovery process.

Adults and the Recovery Process

It’s impossible to predict how long it will take to recover from a brain injury. Many experts say the brain has a limited ability to heal itself over about a two- year time frame, with the fastest recovery occurring in the first six months.

While this might be the case for some, it’s not for everyone. Each journey to recovery is unique.

Neurological rehabilitation will play a significant role in your healing. Often the most successful stories are about people who maintain a positive outlook, are determined to thrive and have a strong support system cheering them on. Let Mercy be part of your support system and help get you back to living life to the fullest.

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