Do you know how to recognize a brain injury? If you or someone you love sustains this serious type of injury, the answer could mean the difference between life and death.
A Personal Experience with Head Injuries
In 2001, I was involved in a car accident. I banged my head in the collision. The damage could have been much more serious. I never lost consciousness, never suffered problems moving or breathing. Yet for weeks, I didn’t feel like myself. I felt foggy, “out of it.” These cognitive symptoms can affect every part of your life, and in some cases, they can be quite severe. They can also be difficult to identify and articulate in yourself, especially in milder cases of injury.
I’m lucky that the damage from hitting my head in that car accident years ago was minor. That fogginess and the feeling of being unable to focus went away with time. Some victims aren’t so lucky. Their injuries are more serious. They sustain lasting damage, often across many aspects of their physical and cognitive functioning.
Brain injuries are mysterious traumas. It’s hard to know precisely how an injury will affect a patient, what symptoms the victim will exhibit, how extensive the effects will be, what treatments or therapies may be most effective, and how complete a recovery that patient will make. That’s why it’s so essential to know the symptoms that could indicate a brain injury, and to always seek medical care if there’s any chance that a traumatic brain injury (TBI) occurred.
Physical and Mental Symptoms of a TBI
The brain controls virtually every function of the body, from thinking to moving, from the sense of sight to the sense of smell, from your memory to your cycle of sleeping and awakening. The brain plays a crucial role in actions as basic as breathing and in factors as complex as your personality. When the brain gets injured, every one of these functions could suffer.
- Loss of consciousness, lasting from a few seconds to hours
- Persistent headaches or neck pain
- Nausea or repeated vomiting
- Weakness, numbness, or tingling in arms, legs, fingers, toes, or any other body part
- Difficulty walking
- Loss of coordination
- Dizziness, lightheadedness, or loss of balance
- Fatigue, tiredness, or lethargy
- Changes in sleep patterns, including insomnia, sleeping too much, or having difficulty awakening
- Dilated pupils in one or both eyes (particularly if pupils are different sizes)
- Unusual eye movements
- Blurred vision
- Tired eyes
- Seeing flashing lights
- Increased sensitivity to light
- Ringing in ears
- Increased sensitivity to sounds
- Loss of or changes to the sense of smell
- Loss of or changes to the sense of taste
- A bad taste in the mouth
- Memory loss
- Difficulty concentrating
- Changes in mood, including depression and anxiety
- Slurred speech
- Unusually slow speech, actions, or thought processes
- Any sort of agitated, combative, or abnormal behavior
- Aphasia, or difficulty understanding or producing speech
Better Safe than Sorry!
One aspect of TBIs that makes them especially disturbing injuries is that a patient can display no symptoms immediately after the accident, but can still have a life-threatening injury. This phenomenon is called a lucid interval, and it can last for hours.
Some TBI victims may feel “fine” or even improve after regaining consciousness (remember, a loss of consciousness can occur for as brief a time as a few seconds, so to the victim and witnesses, it may seem like it didn’t happen at all). Ultimately, though, their condition will worsen. In patients with epidural hematomas, or bleeding under the skull, a lucid interval can be very dangerous. Victims might not know to seek medical care until it is too late. Lucid intervals are more common than you might think, with an estimated 20 to 50 percent of patients who have suffered an epidural hematoma experiencing them.
Due to the possibility of experiencing a lucid interval and the serious consequences of underestimating a head injury’s severity, it’s always better to err on the side of caution when a brain injury is involved.
Diagnosing and Documenting a Brain Injury
Often, when doctors suspect a brain injury, they will order diagnostic imaging tests like a CT scan, an MRI, or an X-ray so they can see and evaluate any damage to the brain. These scans can help your physician understand what part or parts of the brain suffered the injury and how severe the injury is. You might also undergo a neurological or neuropsychological assessment, in which a specialist called a neurologist or neuropsychologist will ask you to perform tasks that indicate how well you’re functioning cognitively and physically. If you did suffer a brain injury, you will need follow-up care and may have to undergo speech, physical, occupational, or other types of therapy as you work toward recovery.
If your injury happened because of someone else’s negligence, such as a car accident or a fall on an unsafe property, you may decide to pursue a personal injury claim. In this case, your medical records and your doctor’s observations can play a crucial role in documenting the damages you have suffered so that you can get the compensation you deserve.
In a perfect world, no one would ever have to suffer the devastating effects of a TBI. Unfortunately, the causes of head injuries are often beyond our control. I hope you’ll never need to use what you’ve learned from this list, but if you do, recognizing the symptoms of a brain injury early on can mean that you get medical help in time to prevent further damage to your brain – or even save your life.