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Traumatic Brain Injury - Topic Overview

What is it like to live with a traumatic brain injury?

Your brain will need time to heal. Rest is the best way to recover. Here are some tips to help you get better:

  • Get plenty of sleep, and take it easy during the day.
  • Don't drink alcohol or use illegal drugs.
  • Return to your normal activities gradually.
  • Ask your doctor when it's okay for you to drive a car, ride a bike, or operate machinery.
  • Avoid activities that make you feel worse. These may be physically or mentally demanding activities like housework, exercise, schoolwork, or video games.
  • Ask your doctor which medicines you should and shouldn't take.
  • If you feel grumpy or irritable, get away from whatever is bothering you.

Long after the brain injury, you may still feel mental and physical effects (postconcussive syndrome), or new symptoms may develop.

  • Headaches: They are especially common after a brain injury, even months later. You may find that your headaches evolve into chronic pain, which can make even the lightest activities difficult.
  • Thinking skills: Brain injuries can affect how well you can concentrate. It may be hard for you to learn a lot of new information all at once. You may not be able to remember things that just happened.
  • Communication: You may have trouble expressing yourself clearly or understanding what other people are saying. When you talk in a group of people, you might find it hard to keep up.
  • Emotions: You may feel anxious or depressed, have rapid mood changes, or lose interest in things you used to enjoy. Your emotional ups and downs may be tied to struggles with speaking, thinking, and memory.
  • Sleep: You may have changes in your sleep patterns, such as not being able to fall asleep or stay asleep, or sleeping much more of the time. Not getting good sleep can affect how well you recover and how severely other symptoms affect you.
  • Drug or alcohol abuse: You may use drugs or alcohol to get rid of feelings of anxiety, depression, and stress or to feel normal or accepted. If you are having problems with drugs or alcohol, treatment can help. The first step is often detoxification, along with medical care.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder: Along with the physical damage from a brain injury, you might have long-lasting effects from the trauma of the injury. You may have fears about a loss of safety and control in your life. You may pull away from other people, work all the time, or use drugs or alcohol. It's important to get treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Talk to your family doctor. Or, if you're a veteran, contact your local VA hospital or Vet Center.
  • Developmental problems: In children, a brain injury, even a mild one, can interrupt the brain's development. This can have a permanent effect on a child's ability to keep up with his or her peers. If your child has had a head injury, call your doctor for advice on what to do.

If you find that you are feeling sad or blue or aren't enjoying the activities or hobbies that you enjoyed in the past, talk to your doctor about these feelings. You may have depression, which is common with chronic pain and other symptoms of a brain injury. If you have thoughts about hurting yourself or someone else, call 911 or 1-800-273-TALK (suicide hotline), or go to a hospital emergency room.

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