The brain is the most complex organ in the human body, so it’s not surprising that a traumatic brain injury (TBI), such as a concussion, can have major health impacts. Even concussions that appear mild at first can turn out to have serious, long-lasting consequences. And a more serious TBI can cause health problems that require extensive rehabilitation and lifelong care.
While there is still much science doesn’t know about the brain, the more we learn about TBIs, the better we can recognize them and provide treatment for persons living with TBI. Brain injury research has important implications for the victims of personal injuries, such as people hurt in car crashes, motorcycle accidents, and slip and fall accidents.
What is a TBI?
A traumatic brain injury is an injury that affects the brain’s functioning. A TBI can result when:
- The head suffers a bump or blow, known as a “closed head injury.”
- An object pierces the skull and goes through brain tissue. Also known as a “penetrating” injury.
What causes a TBI?
The “traumatic” aspect of TBI refers to a brain injury that occurs suddenly.
Traumatic brain injuries don’t come on gradually. They occur from some type of extreme event, like a fall, car crash, sports injury, blast, or being struck by an object.
Somebody who suffers a TBI has typically been in an accident or the victim of an assault. According to the CDC, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of TBI resulting in hospitalization.
Certain groups of people are statistically more likely to get a TBI, including males, people older than 65, and those who engage in certain activities or professions, like athletes, construction workers, and members of the armed forces and law enforcement.
Is a concussion a traumatic brain injury?
The most common type of TBI is a mild traumatic brain injury, or mTBI—what is commonly known as a concussion. There are roughly 1.5 million to 2.5 million TBIs diagnosed in the U.S. every year. Most of these are so-called mild TBIs/concussions.
But describing a head injury as “mild” is misleading. Although they may not be life-threatening, concussions have the potential to cause severe and permanent impairments.
Concussions are often associated with football players and other athletes, but anyone can suffer a concussion during daily activities. Falls and motor vehicle crashes are two of the leading causes of concussions.
Is a Stroke a Traumatic Brain Injury?
A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is blocked, preventing brain tissue from receiving oxygen. Interruption of the brain’s blood supply can cause brain damage, but this is different from a traumatic brain injury.
However, research shows that TBI is a risk factor for the development of a stroke. In one study, 2.5% of moderate to severe TBI patients suffered a stroke.
What Are the Symptoms of a Brain Injury?
TBI symptoms are not uniform. They depend on the type of TBI and the severity of the brain damage. TBIs can also affect individual brains differently.
Concussion or mild TBI symptoms commonly include:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Balance problems
- Blurred vision
- Concentration or memory issues
- Sensitivity to light or noise
- Change in sleep patterns
Loss of consciousness sometimes—but not always—accompanies a TBI. Only about 10% of concussions include loss of consciousness, and these concussions are not necessarily more severe.
Moderate or severe traumatic brain injury symptoms may be the same as concussion symptoms. BMJ says that moderate or severe TBI patients tend to have more serious neurocognitive impairments (i.e., symptoms related to thinking, concentrating, memory, information processing, speaking, and understanding) that overshadow concussion symptoms.
Brain bleeding accompanies around 30 – 40% of mild to moderate TBI and 5% of mild TBI.
How Do You Know if You Have a Brain Injury?
A large percentage of mild TBIs are never identified. The number of unidentified or undiagnosed concussions has been reported at 50 – 90%. Many head injuries do not show up on imaging scans.
Any blow to the head or other traumatic head injury can cause TBI. Some TBIs are obvious, such as those accompanied by unconsciousness or amnesia. But mild TBI/concussion symptoms are not always obvious, and they may not develop right away. It can take hours, days, or up to a week after an injury for them to show up.
You don’t have to suffer a blow to the head to suffer a concussion. Concussions happen when the brain moves back and forth inside the skull. This can occur, for instance, in a car accident when there is sudden deceleration. The force of the impact causes a shock wave that travels through the brain and can create chemical changes and injure the brain’s soft tissue.
You don’t have to lose consciousness to get a concussion, either. Only about 10% of concussions include loss of consciousness, and these concussions are not necessarily more severe.
How is TBI Diagnosed?
TBI is diagnosed by a doctor during a physical examination that can include:
- Neurological exam to test balance, coordination, reflexes, and vision
- Imaging tests, like a CT scan or MRI
- Blood test to look for blood proteins that may indicate a concussion
- Intracranial pressure monitor
- Memory and thinking evaluation
All brain injuries are potentially serious and require prompt medical attention so an accurate diagnosis and treatment can be provided. Undiagnosed TBI patients may have a more complicated recovery.
Having a clear record of TBI diagnosis and treatment is also crucial for substantiating a TBI-related injury claim.
What Are The After Effects of a Traumatic Brain Injury?
People’s brains react differently to trauma. For example, genetic differences can affect whether a person gets chronic traumatic encephalopathy, an Alzheimer’s-like disease associated with repeated hits to the head. In addition, concussions affect men, women, and children differently.
If concussion symptoms don’t resolve within a few weeks, it could be a case of post-concussion syndrome (PCS), which is much more prevalent than previously believed. Post-concussions syndrome can last for years and even be permanent.
The percentage of people who get a concussion and go on to develop PCS ranges from about 5 to 30 percent, depending on the age group. A concussion resulting in PCS can have lasting effects on cognition, learning, and executive function. Patients with PCS are often forced to withdraw from their typical activities. They may miss extensive time at work and require ongoing medical treatment.
Moderate to severely injured TBI patients that survive their injuries and go through rehabilitation often have long-term negative health effects. They are more likely to die from seizures and infections and typically face chronic health problems. About half end up back in the hospital at least once.
In the past, victims who complained about lingering concussion symptoms were often treated with suspicion by insurance companies. Today, however, there is a strong body of evidence to support monetary claims for concussion injuries.
What Is the Best Treatment for a Traumatic Brain Injury?
A mild TBI typically resolves on its own with rest and over-the-counter pain medicine. During the recovery period, however, it is important to keep a close eye on the patient in case there are any new or worse symptoms. The doctor will give the go-ahead for returning to normal activities, which usually occurs gradually.
The more serious the TBI, the more likely a person is to require hospital care and more intense treatments, which may include:
- Physical therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Speech/language therapy
- Social support services
Can a Brain Injury Cause Depression?
People with TBIs are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
The risk for depression following TBI may be 2 to 5 times higher than in the general population, some studies suggest. This risk affects people with no prior history of depression or mental health struggles.
About half of TBI sufferers deal with depression in the first year after their injury. Within seven years of TBI, nearly-two thirds are affected by depression.
TBI-related depression is thought to occur due to physical changes in the brain, although it can also be an emotional response to their injury and its aftereffects.
Is a TBI a Disability?
More than half of people with moderate to severe TBI are disabled five years after their injury. These disabilities include cognitive, emotional, motor, and sensory impairments. TBI can permanently disrupt a person’s ability to work and function normally within their family and society.
In a report to Congress, the CDC estimates that, every year, 80,000 – 90,000 people become disabled from TBI. The same report also states that more than 5 million Americans are living with a TBI-related disability.
How Much Compensation Can You Get for a TBI?
Brain injury costs can be particularly complex because the brain itself is so complex. Injury severity, treatment, and whether a patient makes a full recovery are some of the factors that affect TBI compensation.
In the early stages of a TBI diagnosis, it’s difficult to predict someone’s long-term prognosis. Some patients require immediate care at a hospital or emergency room and get back to normal after a brief rest period. Others need extensive hospitalization and ongoing help with everyday activities. A minority of patients are permanently changed by their injuries. And somebody might not get immediate treatment for a TBI but later have serious complications.
Generally, TBI costs fall into the following categories:
- Direct medical costs
- Lost productivity
To give a very rough overview of how these costs can add up, one study of TBI patients found that mild cases can cost around $30,000 – $35,000 and moderate cases can cost $25,000 – $80,000—and these were just the direct medical costs. Another study found the direct costs of TBI average $65,000 – $115,000 per patient. Due to inflation, these costs are likely almost double today.
- The Rand Corporation says that the one-year cost of mild TBI ranges from around $27,000 to $33,000 per case. For moderate to severe TBI, costs per case are roughly $270,000 to $410,000.
- Arizona State reports TBI affects 1.7 million Americans at an estimated annual cost of $76.5 billion, or approximately $45,000 per person.
These are just very general estimates that only consider direct costs, and not indirect costs like productivity loss. Other indirect TBI costs can include physical and emotional pain and suffering. These costs are very relevant to TBI cases due to the high percentage of patients who develop post-TBI depression and anxiety.
The brain affects nearly everything we do, feel, and think. Putting a dollar amount on a brain injury is therefore extremely complicated. A brain injury attorney works with medical experts to determine how much a traumatic brain injury is worth. This dollar amount forms the basis of insurance company negotiations and, if necessary, a TBI injury lawsuit.
Talk to a Traumatic Brain Injury Lawyer
Society is long past downplaying traumatic brain injuries. The more scientists study concussions, the more they find out how dangerous even a seemingly minor head injury can be. We’re also learning more about severe brain injury and ways to help those who suffer from TBI.
Science is on your side when it comes to diagnosing a TBI and proving TBI-related losses. The injury lawyers at Jim Adler & Associates are on your side, too.
If an employer or insurance company is downplaying your head injury claim, we can help you set the record straight. We offer free case reviews and charge no legal fees unless we recover money for you. Call us or send us a message to get legal help with your TBI claim.