Traumatic Brain Injury

A male doctor holding up x-rays of a patient's brain scan.

OHSU specialists, from expert critical-care doctors to rehabilitation therapists, can treat you or your child for a traumatic brain injury.

You’ll find:

  • A Level 1 trauma center with the most advanced care available for traumatic injuries.
  • An advanced Neurosciences Intensive Care Unit with neurointensivists (specialists in critical care for brain and nerve conditions) on duty 24/7.
  • Advanced pediatric intensive care and the West Coast’s only program for children recovering from a critical illness or injury.
  • Specialists with the latest expertise and technology to develop a care plan that best meets your needs.
  • Team-based care, with a range of experts working together to treat all your injuries and help you recover.

What to do after a moderate or severe traumatic brain injury

  • If you have severe symptoms, call 911 or go to an emergency room.
  • For moderate symptoms, call your doctor or go to a hospital right away.

Know the signs

Understanding traumatic brain injury

What is traumatic brain injury?

Traumatic brain injury (TBI)  is a sudden injury that disrupts normal brain function. Depending on severity, TBIs are classified as:

Moderate and severe TBIs usually require hospital care, surgery and rehabilitation. They can result in long-lasting or permanent disabilities, including:

  • Difficulty thinking, learning or remembering
  • Coordination and balance problems
  • Difficulty speaking, hearing or seeing
  • Emotional and behavioral problems, such as depression and personality changes

TBIs can also affect:

  • Your ability to work or study
  • Relationships with friends and family
  • How you do daily activities such as household chores

What causes traumatic brain injury?

TBIs are caused by a strong blow or jolt to the head or by an object piercing the skull. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, leading causes of TBI are:

  • Falling
  • Being hit by or against an object
  • Car crashes
  • Violence or self-harm

Symptoms of traumatic brain injury

Severe symptoms (call 911 or go to an emergency room):

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • One pupil larger than the other
  • Very drowsy or can’t wake up
  • Headache that gets worse and doesn’t go away
  • Nausea or repeated vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Weakness or numbness
  • Unusual behavior
  • Balance and coordination problems
  • Increased confusion, agitation or restlessness
  • Cannot recognize places or people

Moderate symptoms:

  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating and/or remembering new things
  • Severe headache
  • Blurred or fuzzy vision
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Problems with balance
  • Dizziness
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Fatigue
  • More emotional, sad or irritable
  • Anxious or nervous
  • Sleep problems, such as insomnia or sleeping more or less than usual

Symptoms in children:

Symptoms are similar in children, but children may not notice subtle changes in behavior. Go to an emergency room if your child has a blow to the head or body and:

  • Has any of the above symptoms
  • Won’t eat or nurse
  • Cries for long periods and is inconsolable

Treatment for traumatic brain injury

Treatment varies widely by patient and the severity of injury. At OHSU, your care team will work together to tailor and adjust your treatment plan so it meets your exact needs. Services may include:

Emergency care: The doctors, nurses and other providers in our emergency rooms one for adults, and one for children care for patients from throughout the region. We offer the highest level of trauma care (Level 1).

Neurocritical care: Our Neurosciences Intensive Care Unit provides attentive, expert care for adults with critical brain injuries. Our unit includes neurointensivists (specialists in critical care of patients with brain and nerve conditions) on duty 24/7. We also offer advanced monitoring, in-unit imaging and team-based care.

Children’s critical care: The Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at OHSU Doernbecher Children's Hospital provides the highest level of care to critically ill or injured children and teens.

Imaging technology: Our advanced technology enables us to pinpoint fractures, bleeding, swelling or other conditions. They include:

  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
  • CT (computed tomography) scans
  • Quick-brain MRI for children so we can find signs of a brain injury or rule one out right away

Medication: Some medications given in the hospital may limit secondary damage to the brain right after an injury. They can reduce pressure in the brain, prevent seizures and, in some cases, put someone in a temporary coma to help the brain heal.

Surgery: Our highly skilled trauma surgeons and neurosurgeons can repair skull fractures, remove blood clots, stop brain bleeding or relieve pressure in the skull. We earned top scores of “excellent” in patient experience, advanced technologies and nursing staffing. Our pediatric neurosurgeons are specifically trained to treat children.

Rehabilitation: Our state-of-the-art rehabilitation center includes therapists trained to treat patients with neurologic conditions, including brain injury. Our team of experts includes physical therapists, occupational therapists and speech-language therapists who can help you regain function. Our goal is to help you be as independent as possible, and to reach your full potential. We also offer expert rehabilitation services for children.

Children’s recovery: Our Pediatric Critical Care and Neurotrauma Recovery Program offers services specifically for children recovering from a serious illness or injury. The program, the only one of its kind on the West Coast, provides ongoing services and support.

PANDA transport: The Pediatric and Neonatal Doernbecher Transport Team (PANDA) brings children who need critical care to us by air or ambulance. Patients receive care during transport, and a team is ready at Doernbecher the instant they arrive.


OHSU and Doernbecher Children’s Hospital emergency rooms
3181 S.W. Sam Jackson Park Road
Portland, OR 97239
Map and directions

Free valet parking is available.

Refer a patient

Transfer a patient

Racing to recovery

Karl Kajomo Moritz adjusting his custom-made velodrome racing bicycle

Meet Karl Kajomo Moritz, who was treated for a severe traumatic brain injury and other injuries at OHSU. Bike racing is a key part of his recovery.