Falls and car accidents are two of the top causes of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). When you take a severe blow to the head, your brain hits against the skull. The impact can cause brain damage. Concussions are the most common type of TBI. You can take steps to lower your risk of accidents that cause TBIs.
A traumatic brain injury, or TBI, can happen when there is a blow to the head. The injury can be penetrating, such as a gunshot wound, or a non-penetrating injury, such as being struck in the head in a car accident.
Traumatic brain injuries vary in severity. Many people recovery from TBIs within days and more severe forms can cause permanent brain injury or even death.
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Anyone can experience a TBI, although nearly 80% of them happen to males. TBIs are also more common among people older than 65. People in this age group are more prone to losing their balance, falling and hitting their heads. But even infants can experience TBIs from incidents like falling from a bed or changing table, or more rarely, from abuse.
People involved in certain professions or activities have a higher risk of TBIs, including:
TBIs are a leading cause of disability and death in the United States. The most current numbers available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are from 2014. That year, TBIs contributed to close to 3 million emergency department visits, hospitalizations and deaths. More than 54,000 adults and 2,500 children died from TBIs that year.
The severity of the head injury is determined by several different factors, such as loss of consciousness, certain neurological symptoms that happened at the time of the injury, loss of memory for the injury and time surrounding it, and abnormalities on head CT or brain MRI.
There are several different types and grades of TBI:
When you take a violent, hard hit to your head, your brain may experience changes in chemical and energy use as a way to compensate for the injury. These changes can result in headaches, light/sound sensitivity, and confusion. In mild TBIs, these changes are short and do not permanently damage the brain. However, with more severe injuries, these changes can last longer and result in damage to the brain cells. These effects can cause the brain to swell and expand inside the skull. The swelling can lead to even more brain damage.
Falls account for almost half of emergency department visits for TBIs. People older than 65 and children under age 17 experience the most fall-related TBIs.
Other causes include:
TBI symptoms vary depending on how severe the injury is. A key sign is loss of consciousness (passing out) after a blow. Some people feel dazed for a couple of minutes and others are unresponsive for long periods (coma or persistent vegetative state).
People with mild TBIs can have several different symptoms, most of which occur right after the head injury or the days following. Sometimes people do not feel the severity of a symptom until they return to school or work.
Signs of a TBI include:
Infants and children with TBIs may also:
Your healthcare provider will examine you and ask about your symptoms. They will also want to learn more about what caused the injury. Depending on the severity of the injury and symptoms, you may have:
People with mild to moderate TBIs may only need minimal treatment. Your care may involve a short period of rest from sports, school or work. Symptoms should improve within a few weeks.
For severe TBI, people often need hospital care and more intense treatments.
For all TBI grades, treatments may include:
Treatments focus on easing your symptoms and improving your quality of life. Some effects may gradually get better with lots of time — sometimes years for more severe head injuries.
A moderate or severe TBI can cause permanent brain damage and disabilities. People with TBIs also have a higher risk of:
In rare cases, severe head injuries or having had several moderate to severe TBI’s can increase someone’s risk to developing Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or movement disorders later in life. Reassuringly, this is unlikely to happen with a mild TBI.
Finally, chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE can occur. This is a condition that happens when someone has had several blows to the head over an extended period, such as professional athletes. This condition is in the early stages of research and is still in the process of being understood. Currently, this condition cannot be diagnosed until the brain tissue at autopsy.
Many TBIs aren’t preventable. They happen without warning due to an accident or fall. But you can take these steps to avoid some incidents that commonly cause TBIs:
Recovery from a TBI is highly individualized. It depends on the severity, cause and type of injury. People with mild TBIs are expected to improve and return to their pre-injury functioning within days to a few months. Some people with mild TBIs have few concerns and never seek treatment.
Moderate to severe TBIs can cause more significant difficulties with changes to their thinking and behavior. People with severe TBIs can have lifelong changes.
There are several different factors that can influence someone’s recovery.
You should call your healthcare provider if you experience:
You may want to ask your healthcare provider:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Your healthcare provider should check out any type of head or brain injury, even if you don’t think the impact was serious. Problems from TBIs can develop right away. But it’s possible to have a mild brain injury and not know it. It’s helpful to know what signs to look for so you can get the medical care you need. Severe TBIs can cause lifelong physical, behavioral and mental health problems. Your provider can connect you and your family to resources to aid recovery. Having a TBI can make you feel anxious or depressed. Therapy and medications help.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/11/2021.
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