OHSU

About Traumatic Brain Injury

What is Traumatic Brain Injury?

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) occurs when a sudden trauma causes damage to your brain. TBI can result from a violent direct blow or jolt to your head. It can also happen when an object, such as a bullet, goes through your skull and enters your brain tissue.

Symptoms of a TBI can be mild, moderate or severe depending on how much damage there is to your brain. You may notice symptoms immediately, or they may develop over time.

Mild TBI: You may remain conscious or may experience a loss of consciousness for a few seconds or minutes. You may also experience:

  • Headache
  • Confusion, lightheadedness, dizziness
  • Blurred vision or tired eyes
  • Ringing in your ears
  • Bad taste in your mouth
  • Fatigue or lethargy, a change in sleep patterns
  • Behavioral or mood changes and trouble with memory, concentration, attention or thinking 

Moderate or severe TBI: You may experience any of the symptoms listed above, but also may have:

  • A headache that gets worse or does not go away
  • Repeated vomiting or nausea
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Dilation (widening) of one or both pupils of your eyes
  • Slurred speech

Other symptoms of moderate or severe TBI include:

  • Unable to wake up from sleep
  • Weakness or numbness in your extremities, loss of coordination and increased confusion
  • Restlessness or agitation

After a Traumatic Brain Injury

Rehabilitation is a vital part of the recovery process for a TBI survivor. Moderately to severely injured patients usually first receive treatment and care in an intensive care unit. Once stable, they can be transferred. At this point patients follow many different paths toward recovery depending on their needs. It is important that TBI patients receive an individualized rehabilitation program based upon their strengths and capacities. Rehabilitation services also need to be modified over time to adapt to their changing needs. Moderately to severely injured patients require rehabilitation treatment that draws on the skills of many specialists. This involves individually tailored treatment programs in the areas of physical therapy, occupational therapy (learning skills for the activities of daily living), speech/language therapy, physiatry (specialists in rehabilitation medicine), psychology/psychiatry, and social support. The overall goal of rehabilitation after a TBI is to improve their ability to function at home and in society.  After a brain injury, you might have:

Physical problems

  • Vision and hearing problems
  • Speech problems
  • Motor problems (such as difficulty walking or the loss of hand, arm or leg function)
  • Fine motor problems (such as difficulty moving fingers when holding a pencil)
  • Paralysis of body parts
  • Seizures

Thinking and behavior problems

  • Memory problems
  • Difficult thinking, reasoning and concentrating
  • Behavior problems (such as impulsiveness or depression)

Once your brain is injured and your brain cells are damaged, they can't be fixed. It's not like breaking an arm or a leg. Those body parts can heal. But a serious brain injury rarely heals and a spinal cord injury will never completely heal.

OHSU founded the ThinkFirst program to help prevent brain and spinal cord injuries in children.
Learn more about the ThinkFirst program. 

OHSU founded the ThinkFirst program to help prevent brain and spinal cord injuries in children.

Learn more

The most common head injury in sports is concussion. Management of concussion, including determination of when an athlete should return to play, is an area that our OHSU Sports medicine physicians specialize in.

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