Traumatic Brain Injury Symptoms

Signs of a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury: What to watch for

After a jolt or blow to the head caused by something like a motor vehicle collision, certain signs indicate a concussion, or a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI):

  • Loss of, or decreased consciousness
  • Increasing and unrelenting headache
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Weakness, drowsiness, numbness, or decreased coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Impaired attention or concentration
  • Asymmetrical pupil dilation
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Trouble recognizing familiar faces
  • Confusion, restlessness, or agitation

In the event of a Traumatic Brain Injury, some symptoms may not present right away, but only become noticeable after a few days. Even sophisticated neuroimaging techniques such as Computed Tomography (CT) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) may produce a negative result, revealing no gross pathology at all for hours following an injury.[1] The Centers for Disease Control note that “some patients with MTBI do not present abnormalities, or the markers are not sensitive enough to accurately diagnose the condition.”[2] For this reason, it is critically important that a person who has been involved in a head trauma incident be evaluated and monitored closely by medical professionals and specialists.

The Centers for Disease Control classify the symptoms of a concussion, or a “mild” and temporary TBI, in four categories: thinking/remembering, physical, emotional, and sleep. Disruptions to thinking/remembering include feeling mentally slowed down, having difficulty concentrating, and difficulty remembering new information. Physical signs of a concussion may be headaches, blurred vision, trouble with balance, dizziness, and nausea. The emotional signs of a concussion are irritability, sadness, and nervousness and anxiety. Finally, sleep habits may be disturbed, causing a TBI victim to sleep excessively or, on the contrary, having trouble falling, or staying asleep.

A person who has suffered a head trauma may not experience symptoms until they resume the habits of their everyday life. It can then be difficult for the victim to acknowledge or admit that they are having trouble with normal activity or cognition following an accident. Nevertheless, the sooner they are treated by a medical professional, the better the prospects for recovery and rehabilitation.

How a person experiences a Traumatic Brain Injury varies significantly depending on a number of factors. Most evidently, the effects of TBI depend on the severity of the injury. Mild TBI, sometimes simply called a concussion, may have temporary effects and symptoms such as a headache, dizziness, numbness, and nausea. It is impossible to know at the time of the injury, however, whether other more severe consequences of a head injury may present at a later time. Some victims of a Traumatic Brain Injury may experience symptoms only for a short time, while other symptoms may continue for days, weeks, or longer. Although mild TBI may not be life threatening, a study of 470 patients in San Diego, California found that victims continue to have related health problems six months after the injury, including headaches, dizziness, vision problems, memory or learning difficulties. Living with these symptoms may present serious psychoemotional and financial problems.

[1] Frank G. Hillary, et al., “Motor Vehicle Collision Factors Influence Severity and Type of TBI,” Brain Injury 16:8 (2002): 739-740.

[2] National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Report to Congress on Mild Traumatic Brain Injury in the United States: Steps to Prevent a Serious Public Health Problem. (Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2003), 7.

[3] Jess Krauss et al., “Physical Complaints, Medical Service Use, and Social and Employment Changes Following Mild Traumatic Brain Injury: A 6-Month Longitudinal Study,” Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation 20:3 (2005): 239-256.