Brain Injury

What is Traumatic Brain Injury?

Traumatic brain injury (TBI), also called acquired brain injury or simply head injury, occurs when a sudden trauma causes damage to the brain. TBI can result when an object pierces the skull and enters brain tissue, when the head suddenly and violently hits an object, or even from the rapid acceleration/deceleration of the head during a traumatic incident.

Symptoms of a TBI can be mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the extent of the damage to the brain. A person with a mild TBI may remain conscious, or may experience a loss of consciousness for a few seconds or minutes. Other symptoms of mild TBI include headache, confusion, lightheadedness, dizziness, blurred vision or tired eyes, ringing in the ears, bad taste in the mouth, fatigue or lethargy, a change in sleep patterns, behavioral or mood changes, and trouble with memory, concentration, attention, or thinking.

A person with a moderate or severe TBI may have these same symptoms, but may also have: a headache that gets worse or does not go away, repeated vomiting or nausea, convulsions or seizures, an inability to awaken from sleep, dilation of one or both pupils of the eyes, slurred speech, weakness or numbness in the extremities, loss of coordination, and increased confusion, restlessness, or agitation.

Is there any treatment?

Anyone with signs of moderate or severe TBI should receive medical attention as soon as possible. Because little can be done to reverse the initial brain damage caused by trauma, medical personnel try to stabilize an individual with TBI and focus on preventing further injury. Primary concerns include insuring proper oxygen supply to the brain and the rest of the body, maintaining adequate blood flow, and controlling blood pressure.

Imaging tests help in determining the diagnosis and prognosis of a TBI patient. Patients may receive skull and neck X-rays to check for bone fractures or spinal instability, or a computed tomography (CT) scan. Injured patients may receive rehabilitation that involves individually tailored treatment programs in the areas of physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech/language therapy, physiatry (physical medicine), psychology/psychiatry, and social support.

What is the prognosis?

The prognosis depends upon the severity of the injury, the location of the injury, and the age and general health of the individual. Even with mild or moderate TBI, long-term disabilities are possible. Some common disabilities include problems with cognition (thinking, memory, and reasoning), sensory processing (sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell), communication (expression and understanding), and behavior or mental health (depression, anxiety, personality changes, aggression, acting out, and social inappropriateness). More serious head injuries can result in: stupor, an unresponsive state, but one in which an individual can be aroused briefly by a strong stimulus, such as sharp pain; coma, a state in which an individual is totally unconscious, unresponsive, unaware, and unarousable; or vegetative state, in which an individual is unconscious and unaware of his or her surroundings, but continues to have a sleep-wake cycle and periods of alertness.

What are the circumstances that create these injuries?

These injuries occur under many different circumstances. To name just a few: motor vehicle, boating, bicycling, or ATV accidents, falls, and medical errors can all cause traumatic brain injuries. With roadway accidents, there may be fault on the part of one of the drivers, or there is also the possibility that the roadway was negligently designed or maintained. People may fall from ladders, stairs, or into swimming pools. Brain injuries from these types of accidents may be the result of poor design, or faulty construction by a manufacturer or contractor. In such cases, the architect, contractor, or manufacturer may be legally responsible for the injuries suffered. Medical mistakes may lead to brain injury, including: improper administration of anesthesia during surgery, or a delay in diagnosis and treatment of stroke or brain tumor. In such cases, a doctor, hospital, or nurse may be legally responsible for the injuries that result.

Brain Injury Links


The Brain Injury Association, Inc., is dedicated to creating a better future through brain injury prevention, research, education and advocacy. Their web site consists of: a Help Index, Links to the National & State Offices, Donation Information, Defense and Veterans Head Injury Program Link, Information on the High Cost of Brain Injury, Prevention, Treatment/Rehab, Conferences, Living Life!, Kids Corner, Books/Tapes/Video, and a National Directory.


The Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Spinal Cord Injury Projects are federally funded “Model Systems of Care” located at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center for individuals who have had brain or spinal cord injuries. Besides providing inpatient rehab, they also coordinate community programs, conduct research, and provide resources. Tap into each project, resource information, the SCI Ring, Local Activities, Project News, or Links from their site.


Traumatic Brain Injury Survival Guide by Dr. Glen Johnson – an online clear and easy to understand