Traumatic Brain Injury

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Concussions

According to the Center for Disease Control, a traumatic brain injury (TBI) is brain damage caused by a bump, blow, jolt, or other trauma to the head. Not all bumps to the head result in a TBI; however, if you have injured your head and experienced any changes in your normal behavior, it is highly likely that you have experienced a traumatic brain injury.

TBIs are classified by type and severity. There are two main types of Traumatic Brain Injury: closed and penetrating. Most TBIs are closed head injuries caused by a blunt force that does not break through the skull. Penetrating TBIs involve injuries that pierce through the skull and damage the brain directly, but these injuries are much less common. TBIs are also classified by symptom severity, ranging from mild to severe. Mild TBIs may include short-term changes in mental status or consciousness, while severe TBIs may include extended periods of unconsciousness or memory loss. The Glasgow Coma Scale is often used to assess whether a TBI is mild, moderate, or severe.

The Mayo Clinic also recommends using the following questions when judging the severity of a Traumatic Brain Injury:

  • How did the injury occur?
  • Did the person lose consciousness?
  • How long was the person unconscious?
  • Were there any changes in alertness, speaking, or coordination following the head trauma?
  • Where was the head or other parts of the body struck?
  • How forceful was the injury? For example, what hit the person’s head, how far did they fall, or were they thrown from a vehicle?
  • Was the person’s body whipped around or severely jarred?

The answers to these questions in combination with imaging tests and scores on the Glasgow Coma Scale inform a doctor’s assessment as to whether the Traumatic Brain Injury is mild, moderate, or severe.

Concussions are the most common type of TBI. The medical field has defined concussion in a number of ways. A recent review of the concussion literature indicates that a concussion refers to changes in brain function that follow a force to the head which may or may not be accompanied by temporary loss of consciousness. Additionally, these symptoms must be diagnosed in awake individuals by measuring their neurologic and cognitive functioning (Carney et al., 2014). The CDC expands on this definition, explaining that concussions can be a result of either direct blows to the head or by situations where someone’s brain moves quickly back and forth (i.e., whiplash), such as during a fall or car accident.

Because concussions are typically not life-threatening, they are usually classified as “mild” forms of Traumatic Brain Injury. While not life-threatening, concussions can affect a person’s ability to think, engage in physical activity, manage emotions, and sleep.

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