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Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) affect approximately 1.4 million Americans annually, and according to the Brain Trauma Foundation, TBIs are the leading cause of death and disability in children and adults ages 1 to 44. While a TBI can happen to anyone, youth and older adults are the most affected populations.

What is a TBI?

TBIs result from damage to the head, whether from a severe blow during a football game or falling off a bike. TBIs can also occur when a fragment of the skull penetrates the brain, perhaps as a result of a car crash.

TBI can have debilitating effects, potentially leading to a progressive brain condition called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a condition that occurs when an individual receives repeated blows to the head. CTE can encompass behavioral changes, executive dysfunction, memory deficits, and cognitive impairments. Moderate to severe TBI may also lead to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, or motor neuron disease.

The most common types of TBIs suffered are:

  • Skull fracture – This is a break in the skull bone.
  • Brain contusion – A contusion is a bruise or a mild form of bleeding under the skin. A brain contusion causes bleeding and swelling inside the brain.
  • ConcussionA concussion is a mild TBI (mTBI) and is the most common type of brain injury. Typically caused by a sudden blow to the head, a concussion shakes your brain. Concussions range from mild to severe. Concussions are especially common among athletes who play high-impact contact sports.

TBI symptoms may include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Irregular sleeping habits. Sleeping disorders like insomnia are common after a TBI and can cause further issues, including anxiety, depressive symptoms, and irritability.
  • Difficulty recalling memories
  • Speech problems. TBIs can cause slurred speech or even apraxia of speech, a disorder that makes it difficult to speak.
  • Seizures. Most people with a TBI will never have a seizure; however, 1 out of 10 people hospitalized for a TBI will have seizures. One seizure after a TBI is referred to as a post-traumatic seizure. If that person has a second seizure, they will be diagnosed with epilepsy. Moderate to severe TBI increases risk of post-traumatic seizures.
  • Nausea and vomiting

If untreated, TBIs can cause severe and even fatal neurological and cognitive impairments in the future.

TBI Treatment

“Even a mild injury to the brain can have serious consequences,” says Anita Mehta, DO, Summit Health neurologist. “Any individual who has suffered a blow to the head should seek immediate medical attention,” she adds.

To determine proper diagnosis, a thorough history, physical examination, and imaging tests (MRI and/or CT scan) will be performed. From these scans, severity of injury can be determined and a treatment plan tailored.

mTBIs (concussions) are generally treated with an over-the-counter pain reliever and at-home monitoring. Contrary to what many believe, exercise that does not jostle the head, like stationary cycling or working out on an elliptical machine, is recommended to enhance recovery.

For a serious TBI, more intense treatment may be needed. This could include rehabilitation or even surgery.

Reducing Risk

There are several ways to reduce risk of sustaining a TBI.

  • Wear a helmet.
  • Wear a seat belt.
  • Don’t drink and drive.
  • If you are older, talk to your health care provider about fall risk.
  • Eliminate clutter and secure rugs to prevent trips and falls.
  • Use a non-slip mat in the shower.

If you have children:

  • Keep them away from balconies.
  • Install window guards.
  • Install safety gates at the top and bottom of stairs.