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What is a traumatic brain injury?

This article aims to educate you on traumatic brain injury (TBI). This injury includes concussion, which is a very common type of injury.

Written by Grace James MSc


What is it?

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a very common type of acquired brain injury. In fact, around one million people visit a&e each year with a suspected TBI. Essentially, a traumatic brain injury describes any trauma to the head, such as a hit or jolt, which can cause brain damage. There are many ways in which an individual acquire a TBI.

  • Blow or hit

A blow to the head essentially means the individual experiences a sudden force or impact (hit) to the head. For example, they may have a fall and hit their head on furniture. Another common example would be contact sports, such as a having a ball hit your head, or a kick to the head in boxing. Individuals may also experience a blow to the head through acts of violence, such as a punch, or road traffic accidents, such as hitting your head on the steering wheel.

  • Jolting

Individuals may also experience jolting to the head, describing the sudden motion of the brain moving forwards and backwards and hitting the skull. For example, an individual may experience a jolt to the head during a car accident due to the sudden deceleration.

  • Penetration

A less common way, but important nonetheless, is penetration injury. This describes the act of an external object penetrating the skull and into brain. This may happen during acts of violence, such as a stabbing or gunshot wound.

There is actually an interesting case story of a man called Phineas Gage. Following a construction work injury, a large metal rod fell and penetrating the front of his brain. Thankfully, Phineas survived this incident, but experienced changes in personality. From this case, we discovered the link between the frontal brain and personality.



Common physical symptoms following a traumatic brain injury include a headache, nausea, dizziness, drowsiness, and sensitivity to light. If the injury was particularly serious, you may experience seizures or a loss of consciousness.

Cognitive (or thinking) symptoms may include brief confusion or disorientation, such as not knowing what happened or where you are. It may also include memory loss and difficulty concentrating.

In terms of emotionality, it is very common for individuals to experience something called emotional lability, which is where you may have difficulty holding in emotions, for example you may become tearful without really knowing why.

Luckily, symptoms following a traumatic brain injury are brief and do not last longer than one week. However, this largely depends on the severity of the incident.



Levels of traumatic brain injury

There are multiple levels of traumatic brain injury (mild, moderate, and severe). This is typically defined by the level of consciousness and how long the loss lasted for.

Mild TBI (includes concussion)

There may be none or a brief loss of consciousness, up to a few minutes.

Moderate TBI

There may be a loss of consciousness for a few minutes to 24 hours.

Severe TBI

There may be a loss of consciousness for more than 24 hours.

Mild TBI

I'm sure you've heard of the term 'concussion'. This is actually a type of mild traumatic brain injury. Often with a concussion you will not experience a loss in consciousness, but if you do it tends to last up to a few minutes. Many people experience a concussion within their lifetime, especially if they play any contact sports such as rugby.

Sometimes people can develop post-concussion syndrome, which is where symptoms of a concussion last for a longer period of time, often months.

Moderate and severe TBI

Individuals that have a moderate of severe form of TBI often experience a prolonged loss of consciousness, sometimes even falling into a coma. Unfortunately, these types of injuries often involve long-term consequences, such as amnesia (loss of memory), or health complications such as a frequent seizures or risk of stroke.


What's next?

Keep your eye out for further articles to explore what's next, which may include a period of rehabilitation, as well as some common strategies to manage symptoms. We will also post some stories from individuals with concussion and traumatic brain injury.




Helping Hands Home Care website


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