Effects of Traumatic Brain Injury

There are a wide variety effects that result from brain injury, and they vary in both duration in type. As a general rule of thumb, the more severe the brain injury, the more permanent and debilitating damage will result. Effects can be immediate or long term, and can be physical, cognitive, or emotional.
Traumatic brain injury is classified as mild, moderate, or severe.

Diagnosing Brain Injury

Anyone who has an accident and suspects a brain injury should seek medical care immediately, even if they are conscious and lucid. A conscious patient will be asked a battery of questions to determine cognitive ability, and will also be asked about symptoms. Depending upon results, tests such as the MRI or CT scan may be done. Patients with more severe injuries will be stabilized first, and then tests will be done to determine the extent of the damage.
Doctors will also use something called the Glasgow Coma Scale to determine the extent of injury. The scale ranges from 3 to 15, with a score of 15 representing the mildest of injuries, and a score of 3 representing the most severe of injuries. This scale can be used not only to determine the survivor’s present state, but also to gauge potential long-term effects of the injury.

Mild Brain Injury

A mild brain injury is described as one that results in a loss of consciousness and/or cognitive issues like confusion for 30 minutes or less. Symptoms may include dizziness, vomiting, confusion, mood swings, memory and attention issues, and headache, and sometimes are so mild that patients and/or their loved ones overlook them completely. However, because mild brain injury can have devastating effects if not recognized and treated, it’s important that anyone who has been in an accident and is experiencing any symptoms, however mild, seek medical care right away. Because mild brain injuries often do not show up on the MRI or CT scan, it’s important to keep careful track of any symptoms, and report them accurately.
 

There are a wide variety effects that result from brain injury, and they vary in both duration in type. As a general rule of thumb, the more severe the brain injury, the more permanent and debilitating damage will result. Effects can be immediate or long term, and can be physical, cognitive, or emotional.

Moderate or Severe Brain Injury

A moderate or severe brain injury may result in six abnormal states of consciousness. These include:

  • Stupor - The patient is unresponsive but can be aroused by strong stimulus.
  • Coma - The patient can’t be aroused.
  • Persistent vegetative state - The patient is unconscious but has sleep-wake cycles and periods of alertness.
  • Minimally conscious state - Similar to persistent vegetative state, but the patient shows signs of cognitive processing.
  • Locked-in syndrome - The patient is paralyzed and mute, but can think and reason.
  • Brain death - Brain function can’t be measured due to widespread damage. Removal of life support systems will cause respiratory failure and cardiac arrest.

Generally speaking, the length of time the patient is unconscious will determine the severity of the injury and the length of recovery. Most patients who sustain a moderate or severe brain injury require inpatient and/or outpatient rehabilitation in order to regain the most amount of brain function possible. Other less severe immediate effects of brain injury that may be experienced by those who sustain a moderate or severe injury include:

Cognitive Effects of Brain Injury

Depending upon the severity of the injury, long-term cognitive effects are possible. The most common long-term cognitive effects include memory loss, post-traumatic amnesia, concentration and attention problems, communication and language issues, and post-traumatic dementia.

Cognitive impairments are usually diagnosed by a neurologist, who will test the patient’s attention, memory, and the ability to speak and understand. Cognitive issues are treated by neuropsychologists (general behavioral and cognitive impairments), occupational therapists (daily living activities such as dressing, doing laundry, and cooking), and  speech-language pathologists (communication).
Sensory Effects of Brain Injury

Long-term effects on the senses are also possible, including problems with vision, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. Depending upon the nature of their injury, brain injury patients may also experience problems telling left from right, doing math, remembering visual information, drawing objects, recognizing objects, being spatially aware, following directions, and building objects.

Sensory Effects of Brain Injury

Sensory effects of brain injury are generally treated through retraining. For example, a person who has trouble drawing objects will undergo repetitive therapy until he or she has been retrained to perform the skill. In addition, therapy may include helping the patient compensate for deficits. For example, a person who has spatial issues may be taught to scan their environment in a certain way.

Emotional Effects of Brain Injury

Some patients experience long-term emotional or behavioral problems after experiencing a brain injury. Common emotional effects include irritability, anxiety, insomnia, depression, confusion, frustration, agitation, mood swings, and clinical depression. Behaviors may include violence, inappropriate actions, emotional outbursts, lack of self control, impulsivity, poor self-awareness, and alcohol and drug abuse.

Some people who suffer from the emotional effects of brain injury are put on medication, some are put in counseling and psychotherapy to help them deal with their emotions, while others undergo a combination of both.

Physical Effects of Brain Injury

Seizure is the most common long-term physical effect among those who have experienced a brain injury, especially those who have contusions or hematomas. Other physical that may result from brain injury include Parkinson’s disease, loss of coordination, partial paralysis, and sudden muscle contractions.

Patients who experience physical effects as a result of brain injury undergo physical therapy at both inpatient and outpatient therapy, and frequently require long-term therapy to help them deal with impairments. In addition, there is a wide variety of adaptive equipment on the market to help traumatic brain injury survivors adapt and succeed.