Mild Traumatic Brain Injury: Facts, Causes, and Symptoms
June is a beautiful month!
The weather is warming. The birds are chirping. The flowers are in full bloom.
It’s time to get outside and enjoy the beautiful weather. For many of us, after being cooped up all winter, spring and summer bring more opportunities to get outside in nature and enjoy ourselves!
Just as it should be!
It’s also time for outdoor sports like soccer, football, and rugby. It’s time to dust off the bike and inflate the tires. It’s time to insure that motorcycle and fix the leaky cabin roof. Yet each of these activities comes with a cautionary note.
June is Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month - a time to enjoy the outdoors for sure, but not be too carefree or careless. When it comes to the health of our brain - we can never be too cautious!
In this blog post, you’ll discover some facts about brain injuries - including causes, symptoms, and types. Next week, be sure to return to find out how brain injuries are becoming a growing silent epidemic.
What is a Traumatic Brain Injury?
A traumatic brain injury (TBI) has many definitions and goes by many names. It is generally described as an insult to the brain or a disruption of brain function due to an external mechanical force (blow to the head), which may lead to permanent or temporary impairment of cognitive, physical, and/or psychosocial functions. It is also usually combined with a diminished or altered state of consciousness.
Many also consider this an Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) because damage to the brain happened after birth and was not related to a congenital or degenerative disease.
The term TBI, referred to simply as a “brain injury,” is often used synonymously with the term “head injury.” The main difference is that a head injury may not necessarily be associated with neurologic deficits.
Regardless of what it’s called, a brain injury can be devastating!
Just as there are many names to describe a brian injury, there are many reasons why someone may sustain one.
Sports injuries (concussions) are typically the main cause of brain injuries in North America, but they can also be the result of a fall, a car accident, a blow to the head, an infectious disease, toxic exposure, a seizure, a tumour, or the deprivation of oxygen.
These causes can be divided into two categories - traumatic, and non-traumatic.
TBI Causes: Traumatic vs. Non-Traumatic Brain Injury
A Traumatic (Acquired) Brain Injury is caused by something that comes from outside the body, like a blow, bump, or jolt. The resulting injury may be temporary, or more serious with long-term effects.
They typically happen as a result of:
Motor vehicle accidents
Foreign objects that penetrate brain tissue
Domestic violence (assault, suffocation, or strangulation)
Shaken baby syndrome
Combat injuries, and
A Non-traumatic (Acquired) Brain Injury is caused by an internal factor or something that happens inside the body that damages brain tissue.
They can include:
Ischemic strokes (a stroke resulting from a blocked blood vessel in the brain)
Hemorrhagic strokes (a stroke resulting from a burst blood vessel in the brain)
Aneurisms (a bulging blood vessel in the brain that may leak/rupture)
Substance abuse (from drugs or alcohol)
Opioid overdose (from heroin, fentanyl, codeine, morphine, etc)
Meningitis (inflammation of the protective lining, meninges, around the brain and spinal cord)
Encephalitis (inflammation of brain tissue)
Hydrocephalus (the accumulation of fluid in the brain)
Hematoma (the collection of blood on the surface of the brain), and
Vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessel walls in the brain)
With the wide variety of reasons why someone may suffer a brain injury, it’s evident that no one is immune! Brain injuries don’t discriminate between socioeconomic status, race, religion, or gender.
Anyone can become a victim of a brain injury at any age! [quote]
Prevalence of Brain Injury in North America
Currently in Canada, brain injuries impact about 1.5 million people.
In the US, there are currently 3.2 – 5.3 million people living with a brain injury related disability.
Each year, an additional 160,000 Canadians will acquire a brain injury.
In the US, there are over 2.8 million brain injuries diagnosed each year.
On average, 70-80% of brain injuries are considered “mild.”
Falls (from a ladder, down stairs, or in the bath) account for over 40% of brain injuries, especially among the elderly and in children.
Motor vehicle accidents account for roughly 14% of brain injuries.
No two brain injuries are the same.
There are 3 main types of TBI based on severity - mild, moderate and severe. However, a clinical diagnosis according to severity does not necessarily correlate to long-term symptoms, length of recovery time, or degree of recovery.
Recovery can be a long journey.
Symptoms experienced vary greatly from person to person.
Concussions are considered “Mild” Traumatic Brain Injuries. They may heal within days or weeks, but can also result in long-term deficits.
Multiple concussions can result in a condition known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), which creates dementia-like symptoms.
The effects of a TBI manifest differently depending on the type and severity of injury, the number of assaults to the brain, and a person’s health and age.
A moderate or severe TBI experienced in early or mid-life is associated with a 2-4 times greater risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s later on in life.
A TBI is referred to as an “invisible” injury - someone may seem fully recovered but still deal with the ongoing consequences of their injury.
A big issue for many dealing with a brain injury is this last fact. They “look fine.” Once the initial physical symptoms that often accompany a blow to the head, like abrasions, cuts, bruises, and broken bones, have faded away, others expect the injured person should be “back to normal.” Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Symptoms can linger for weeks to months to years or last indefinitely.
These symptoms or effects of a brain injury are often categorized as cognitive, emotional, or physical.
Irrational anger or other unusual behaviour
Difficulty processing information
Difficulty following a conversation
Blurred vision/Visual problems
Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
A bad taste in the mouth or changes in the ability to smell
Feelings of anxiety
Lack of self-efficacy
Loss of motor skills
Loss of consciousness
Vomiting or nausea
Seizures or convulsions
Dilation of one or both pupils
Clear fluid draining from the nose or ears
Weakness/numbness in fingers and toes
Loss of balance
Sleep disturbances/difficulty sleeping
Sleeping too much
As most of these symptoms are visible only to the injured, the effects of a traumatic brain injury are often difficult for others to detect and even harder to understand.
June is Traumatic Injury Awareness Month
As the wife of a TBI survivor, I understand what it means to live with a TBI and how challenging it can be for care-givers and loved ones.
As an educator, it’s my mission to teach others about this growing epidemic with the intension of helping them become aware of the issues faced by a TBI survivor and make them more tolerant when dealing with a sufferer.
An important reminder to those with a TBI:
Every brain is different.
Every person is different.
Every injury is different.
Every outcome is unique.
Be sure to return next week when I continue to discuss traumatic brain injuries, the silent suffering that goes on behind closed doors, and how you can dispel the myths and help a loved one or friend who may have suffered from a TBI.
If you’d like more help optimizing your brain function, improving your memory, kicking addictive eating habits, or learning how to improve the quality of your sleep through natural means, consider working with me. I will help you create a realistic plan that works with your lifestyle, needs, and individual goals.