Understanding the Symptoms of Traumatic Brain Injury
There are a number of symptoms you may suffer following a TBI, with the severity of these depending on the severity of the injury. Here we go into detail on these symptoms.
Headaches and Migraines
Headaches can be a common problem after suffering a TBI. There are some particular types of headaches that are more common after a TBI, including tension, migraine and musculoskeletal. These headaches differ from more normal dehydration and minor tension headaches.
Following a TBI, up to 60% of people may suffer from a disturbance in their sleep patterns. As sleep involves many different parts of the brain there are a number of different kinds of sleep disturbances which may occur. These include insomnia, hypersomnia and fatigue.
Fatigue is one of the most common side effects of a TBI, and can occur as a consequence of sleep disturbances or as a separate symptom. Fatigue is experienced in a number of different forms – physical fatigue, mental fatigue and psychological fatigue.
Anxiety and Depression
Anxiety and depression are common problems that people deal with following a TBI. There may be feelings of sadness about the lack of control over what has happened to you. There are a number of causes for these mental health issues which include physical changes to the brain caused by the injury, emotional responses to injury and factors unrelated to the injury such as genetics.
Following a TBI you may notice some changes to your neuropsychological function. This can include changes to your memory, attention span, thinking ability and functions such as decision making, inhibitions and organisation.
Sensitivity to light or sound
After suffering a TBI much of the brain’s energy goes towards helping the brain to heal and recover. As such there isn’t much energy left to assist in the brain function of filtering light and sound. This stimuli may cause the brain to overload and lead to a worsening of other symptoms.
Vestibular System Function
Some people with TBI may suffer alterations to their vestibular system function following their injury. These alterations may lead to symptoms such as dizziness, vertigo and feeling off-balance.
Following a mild TBI it is advised to gradually increase your physical exercise once you have had an initial 24 – 48 hours of rest. It is recommended that patients increase their physical activity using a graduated approach.
For some people symptoms will return soon after they commence exercise and the situation will not improve with time. If this occurs it is recommended that you rest, before trying to exercise again the following day.2 If you continue to be unable to exercise see your GP and they may refer you to a physiotherapist or clinic that can manage a graded return to exercise.
Following a moderate to severe TBI exercise may not be possible. As time passes and if symptoms improve, speak to your GP about the best way to introduce exercise into your routine.
Dependent on the part of the brain that’s injured, a person may suffer from personality changes as a result of their TBI. If a person has suffered frontal lobe damage there is a possibility they may have damaged the regions of the brain responsible for higher cortical functions. Social processing, decision making and aspects of personality are reliant on these higher functions.
Following a TBI many people will suffer from social difficulties such as having trouble expressing thoughts, emotions and following conventional rules of conversation. It may be difficult for a person with TBI to follow previously observed social rules such as listening, taking turns, not interrupting, reading the room, and avoiding inappropriate comments.
Social difficulties can be a result of altered neuropsychological functioning and of personality changes. If social difficulties are causing distress, see your GP who may be able to advise or refer you or your loved one to a neuropsychologist who may be able to provide treatment strategies or techniques to assist.
Aphasia (language or speech impairment)
The three most common types of Aphasia include: Broca’s aphasia, Wernicke’s aphasia and Anomic Aphasia.1
Broca’s Aphasia is when people know what they are trying to say but find it hard to say the words they’re looking for, meaning they may speak in short or stunted sentences.
Wernicke’s Aphasia is when the person knows what they are trying to say, but their sentences don’t make sense.
Anomic Aphasia is when the person can’t find the specific words for the things they want to talk about.
A vegetative state is when a person is awake, but they show no sign of awareness. It is considered to be a continuing vegetative state if it has persisted for longer than 4 weeks, and a permanent vegetative state if it has been more than 12 months and resulted from a TBI. It is unlikely that a person will recover from a permanent vegetative state.
Long Term Coma
A coma is when a person shows no signs of being aware or awake.
Brain death is the complete and irreversible loss of brain function following an event such as severe TBI.
If you have a loved one who is in a vegetative state, long term coma or brain dead, and you are struggling to cope, please see your GP or contact Beyond Blue.
*Disclaimer: Please note that this page does not provide medical advice for individuals. Any individual medical advice should be sought from your medical professional.
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Resources and Further Reading
- GIL, M. COHEN, C. KORN, Z. GROSWASSER(1996) Vocational outcome of aphasic patients following severe traumatic brain injury, Brain Injury, 10:1, 39-46, DOI: 10.1080/026990596124700
- University of Pittsburgh Model Centre for traumatic Brain Injury, http://www.rehabilomics.pitt.edu/