Authored by Revere Health

Understanding Traumatic Brain Injuries

June 13, 2017 | Neurology

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a serious public health issue in the United States. These injuries, generally caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating injury, contribute to a substantial number of deaths and cases of permanent disability—TBIs contribute to about 30 percent of all injury deaths. A concussion is a form of mild TBI.

What are the causes and risks of TBIs, their potential side effects and methods used for recovery and prevention?


The leading causes of traumatic brain injuries include:

  • Falls: In 2013, falls accounted for 47 percent of all TBI-related emergency room visits, hospitalizations and deaths in the United States. Falls disproportionately affect very young people and very old people.
  • Strikes: Being struck by or against an object accounted for about 15 percent of hospital visits and deaths for TBI in 2013.
  • Motor vehicle crashes: The third-leading cause of TBI-related issues.
  • Intentional self-harm

Age affects risk levels for TBIs. Rates are highest for people over 75 years old, and leading causes of TBI deaths can vary by age—falls were the leading cause for people over 65, intentional self-harm was the leading cause for people between 25 and 64, vehicle crashes were the leading cause for people between 5 and 24, and assaults were the leading causes for children under age 5 (all statistics via 2013 data).

Signs, Symptoms and Potential Side Effects

Symptoms of a TBI depend on the extent of the injury and the part of the brain it affects. Symptoms may appear immediately, or may come after a delay of several days or weeks. Symptoms of mild TBIs include:

  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Tiredness, sleepiness or change in sleep habits
  • Behavior or mood changes
  • Bad taste in the mouth
  • Issues with memory, concentration, attention or thinking
  • Loss of consciousness ranging from a few seconds to minutes
  • Sensitivity to light or sound
  • Nausea or vomiting

People with a moderate or severe TBI may have the symptoms above, but may experience additional symptoms also:

  • Headache that worsens or won’t go away
  • Repeated nausea or vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Inability to awaken from sleep
  • Enlargement of pupils in eyes
  • Numbness or tingling in arms or legs
  • Loss of coordination
  • Increased confusion, restlessness or agitation
  • Loss of consciousness lasting a few minutes or even hours

A TBI can lead to a variety of different changes, which can be either short- or long-term. Some of these potential side effects can include areas or specific conditions such as:

  • Thinking changes
  • Changes in sensation, such as sight or balance
  • Language issues, including communication and understanding
  • Emotional changes, including anxiety, depression, personality changes, aggression and social issues
  • Epilepsy
  • Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease or other brain disorders (TBIs can raise risk)
  • Cumulative neurological and cognitive defects (in repeated mild TBIs over extended periods of time)
  • Catastrophic damage or death (in cases of repeated TBIs over a short period of time)

Recovery and Prevention

Several factors contribute to recovery and improvement after a TBI, including severity, age, health and care after the injury. Rest is vital for helping the brain heal, and trying to “tough it out” during sports or physical activity can make symptoms worse. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list a number of recovery tips for both adults and children who have suffered a TBI.

There are also several steps you can take to reduce your chances of sustaining a TBI. These include:

  • Wear a seat belt, and be sure your children do the same, every time you drive or ride in a motor vehicle.
  • Never drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Wear a helmet, or make sure your children wear a helmet, during all contact sports, horse riding, skiing or snowboarding, skating or skateboarding, or riding any mechanical vehicle like a bike, motorcycle or snowmobile.
  • Remove hazards in senior living areas: Because senior TBIs are often caused by falls, making living areas safer for them can lower risk. Remove hazards, use nonslip mats in bathrooms, install handrails or improve lighting to help create a safe living area. In addition, helping seniors maintain regular physical activity can help with strength and balance to prevent falls.
  • Provide a safe environment to children: Install window guards to keep children from falling out of windows, and use safety gates for stairs when young children are around. Also, be sure the surface on a child’s playground is made of shock-absorbing material in case they fall.

If you or your child has sustained a traumatic brain injury, speak to your doctor about your treatment options.


Our neurologists are trained specialists and work with your primary care physicians to develop a treatment plan personalized for you. We have access to the latest in imaging technology and our specialists are up to date on the most recent treatment options.



“Traumatic Brain Injury & Concussion.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Traumatic Brain Injury.” MedlinePlus.

“What are common TBI symptoms?” National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.


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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.