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Understanding the Signs and Symptoms of Traumatic Brain Injuries

woman holding head in pain with caption: "signs and symptoms of a TBI"

Traumatic brain injuries, or TBIs, are a common cause of death in the United States. Every day, thousands of patients are admitted to emergency departments with serious brain injuries. A TBI can cause a wide range of symptoms. Some are temporary while others can impact a victim for the rest of his or her life. While no two traumatic brain injuries are exactly alike, many patients experience common symptoms.

Physical Effects

Suffering a brain injury can have immediate (acute) and long-term (chronic) effects on a victim’s physical movements and abilities.

In the immediate aftermath of a TBI, such as after a bump or blow to the head in a car accident or another type of incident, a victim may notice any of the following symptoms:

  • Persistent headache
  • A feeling of pressure in the head
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fatigue or lethargy
  • Dilation of one or both pupils
  • Weakness or paralysis
  • Numbness in the fingers and toes
  • Difficulty with fine motor skills
  • Movement disorders
  • Problems with speech or slurred speech
  • Trouble with balance and coordination
  • Tremors or involuntary muscle movements
  • Chronic pain
  • Clear fluid leaking from the ears or nose
  • Seizures or convulsions
  • Loss of consciousness

If the brain injury is mild, these symptoms will most likely clear up on their own with rest. However, a moderate to severe TBI can cause longer-lasting motor symptoms or physical impairment that need long-term treatments. In serious cases, a TBI victim may suffer permanent disability or debilitation.

Cognitive Symptoms

In addition to possible physical effects, a traumatic brain injury can impact a victim’s cognitive function. In severe cases, TBIs can result in permanent brain damage and irreversible cognitive deficits.

Examples of cognitive symptoms include:

  • Feeling confused or disoriented
  • Brain fog or grogginess
  • A feeling of being slowed down
  • Reduced thought processing speed
  • Long-term or short-term memory loss
  • Inability to recognize people or places
  • Trouble concentrating or focusing
  • Difficulty organizing thoughts
  • Trouble following conversations
  • Impaired judgment or decision-making

Cognitive symptoms are typically more pronounced if a victim suffers a moderate to severe traumatic brain injury compared to a mild brain injury, such as a concussion. However, each case is unique.

Emotional and Behavioral Changes

Traumatic brain injuries can affect how a victim feels emotionally, mentally and psychologically. It can also alter an individual’s behaviors or personality.

Common examples include:

  • Feeling more emotional than unusual
  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Depression
  • Social isolation or withdrawal
  • Lack of motivation or initiative
  • Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Psychotic disorders or mental health conditions
  • Sudden changes in behavior or personality
  • Mood swings
  • Agitation, irritability or combativeness
  • Difficulty managing behavior
  • Increased impulsivity or risk-taking behavior
  • Difficulty with judgment and decision-making

In young children, a brain injury may cause constant or inconsolable crying, a child that will not eat or nurse, or changes in school performance.

Sleep Disturbances

It is common for victims with traumatic brain injuries to experience sleep disorders or disturbances. A TBI can disrupt regular sleep patterns, resulting in trouble falling or staying asleep, difficulty falling into restorative sleep, chronic fatigue or drowsiness, sleeping more than usual, and the inability to awaken from sleep. These sleep disturbances can impair the victim’s brain injury recovery and exacerbate other symptoms.

Sensory Perception Changes

In some cases, a TBI can cause changes in sensory perception. A brain injury can affect all five senses: touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste. A victim may notice blurred or double vision, new sensitivity to light or sound, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), a bad taste in the mouth, changes in sense of smell, and changes in sensations such as touch. These symptoms may be temporary or permanent.

Trouble Communicating

Communication difficulties can occur in victims who are diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries. Putting thoughts into words, articulating words and forming coherent sentences, following a conversation, and reading and writing can all be more difficult for someone with a TBI. In some cases, this can lead to social difficulties, trouble maintaining relationships with others and isolation.

Coma or Death

Traumatic brain injuries can lead to unconsciousness for varying lengths of time in a victim. In general, a longer period of unconsciousness signifies a more serious TBI. In some cases, a brain injury victim can enter into a coma, or a state of prolonged loss of consciousness. If the victim’s brain continues to be unresponsive, this can lead to a vegetative state (brain death) or death.

Long-Term Effects of a Traumatic Brain Injury

Many brain injury survivors experience long-lasting physical, cognitive and psychological effects from their injuries. Long-term or permanent symptoms can interfere with the victim’s quality of life, enjoyment of life, ability to live independently and ability to earn a living wage.

Some patients experience long-term:

  • Cognitive impairments
  • Motor function disabilities
  • Seizures or epilepsy
  • Social and relationship challenges
  • Inability to participate in daily activities
  • Inability to pursue educational or career goals
  • Mental health challenges
  • Substance abuse disorders

In addition, research suggests that individuals who have sustained a TBI may be at an increased risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases later in life, such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Finally, brain injury survivors can experience higher mortality and morbidity rates.

Traumatic Brain Injury Treatment Options

Mild TBIs are most often treated with rest and over-the-counter pain medications. However, moderate to severe brain injuries may require hospitalization, surgery, prescription medications, rehabilitation and various therapies.

If the brain injury results in health complications such as blood clots, nerve damage, stroke or infection, the patient may need additional treatments. The cost of TBI treatments over a survivor’s lifetime can be substantial.

Contact Us for a Free Traumatic Brain Injury Case Review in Texas

Note that every brain injury victim has a unique experience. Any potential sign or symptom of a brain injury requires immediate medical care. In some cases, brain injury symptoms are not instantly apparent and may take hours or even days to arise. If your head or skull was impacted in any type of accident, go to a hospital without delay.

If you or a loved one has suffered a traumatic brain injury in Texas due to someone else’s negligence, discuss the possibility of collecting financial compensation with an Austin brain injury attorney at FVF Law. You could receive compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, disability, and more.

Contact us online or call (512) 640-2146 for a free consultation. We have more than a century of combined legal experience.

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