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Traumatic Brain Injury - Topic Overview

What is a traumatic brain injury?

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) can range from a mild concussion to a severe head injury. It is caused by a blow to the head or body, a wound that breaks through the skull (such as from a gunshot), a fall, or another injury that jars or shakes the brain. This can cause bruising, swelling, or tearing of brain tissue.

With rest, most people fully recover from a mild brain injury. But some people who have had a severe or repeated brain injury may have long-lasting problems with movement, learning, or speaking.

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What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of a traumatic brain injury range from mild to severe and can last for hours, days, weeks, or even months. These symptoms may include:

  • Not thinking clearly, or having trouble remembering new information.
  • Having headaches, vision problems, or dizziness.
  • Feeling sad, nervous, or easily angered.
  • Sleeping more or less than usual.

If you develop these kinds of symptoms at any time after a head injury—even much later—call your doctor.

How is a traumatic brain injury diagnosed?

The doctor will ask you questions about the injury. He or she may ask questions that test your ability to pay attention, learn, remember, and solve problems. The doctor will check for physical signs of a brain injury by checking your reflexes, strength, balance, coordination, and sensation. The doctor may order imaging tests such as a CT scan or an MRI to make sure that your brain isn't bruised or bleeding. You may need tests to see if your brain is working as it should.

How is it treated?

If your brain has been damaged, you may need treatment and rehabilitation, perhaps on a long-term basis. This might include:

  • Physical and occupational therapy to help you regain the ability to do daily activities and to live as independently as possible.
  • Speech and language therapy to help you with understanding and producing language, as well as organizing daily tasks and developing problem-solving methods.
  • Counseling to help you understand your thoughts and learn ways to cope with your feelings. This can help you feel more in control and help get you back to your life's activities.
  • Social support and support groups so that you get the chance to talk with people who are going through the same things you are. Your family or friends may be able to help you get treatment and deal with your symptoms.
  • Medicines to help relieve symptoms like sleep problems, chronic pain, and headaches. Medicine can also help if you have anxiety, depression, or memory problems. Talk with your doctor about what medicines might be best for you.

You may need to try different types of treatment before finding the one that helps you. Your doctor can help you with this. Treatment can help you feel more in control of your emotions, have fewer symptoms, and enjoy life again.

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