Not all traumatic brain injuries result in permanent damage, but they all involve some level of damage to the brain. That means that all traumatic brain injuries, known as TBIs, deserve serious consideration. While TBIs are common, “common” does not mean “harmless.” No injury to the brain could ever be classified as “harmless,” and TBIs are no different.
What is a TBI?
A TBI is a “bump, blow, or jolt to the head” that interferes with brain function. This is a broad definition that includes everything from a blow that raises a bump on your head and gives you a headache all the way to a skull-penetrating injury that leaves you alive but with permanent brain damage, perhaps even comatose for the rest of your life. TBIs happen every day in all kinds of circumstances and at all kinds of levels of severity. They happen in events as traumatic as traffic accidents and as mundane as slips and falls. They can seem to be not a big deal, or life-altering. All TBIs should receive prompt medical attention, no matter the category into which they fall.
The Severity of TBIs is Rated on a Spectrum
TBIs are graded on a scale, ranging from mild to severe. Mild TBIs happen a lot, and many are never treated. They generally have symptoms that last only a short while. Out of the roughly two million TBIs reported each year, the vast majority are considered “mild.” Those TBIs, of course, are only the ones that are sufficiently severe – despite being “mild” – to require treatment and thus get reported. Untold thousands do not reach that threshold. A mild TBI is simply an injury involving some kind of blow to the head leading to disorientation or perhaps even a very brief bout of unconsciousness. The symptoms from a mild TBI –blurry vision, foggy thinking, persistent headaches, or brief unconsciousness following a blow to the head – generally subside in a few days.
What is termed a “severe” TBI is an entirely different matter. Severe TBIs also involve a blow to the head, but are accompanied by unconsciousness lasting 30 minutes or more. Serious concussion, among the severe types of TBIs, do show up on brain scans and can have symptoms that last for weeks or even months. The symptoms of severe TBIs can include memory loss, sometimes lasting a significant period of time, emotional issues such as irritability or easy frustration, problems concentrating or thinking about complicated problems or issues, paralysis, speech impairment, coma, or, in extreme cases, death. Severe TBIs include skull-penetrating injuries that result in damage to the brain. Such injuries account for the majority of the 150 people who die each day from TBI. Severe TBIs can result in a need for lifelong medical care.
What are Common Causes of TBIs?
Nearly half of all TBIs result from some kind of fall. Second on the list is being struck by or against an object, such as being hit by a baseball or straightening up into an overhead obstruction. Traffic accidents rank third and are responsible for most severe TBIs, although assaults and self-inflicted wounds – such as suicide attempts – account for many, as well. Sports injuries also are among the top causes of TBIs, although those injuries generally are considered mild TBIs.