Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) has been called the signature wound of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. It is defined as damage to the brain caused by sudden trauma or injury as a result of a blow to the head. This may be from the impact of a bullet, blast waves from an explosion, or other head injury. Whatever the cause, the result can have a wide-range of effects, both physical and psychological. Because the damage may involve bleeding and/or bruising in the brain, the individual may appear fine in the immediate hours following the injury, but develop symptoms days or weeks later.
With mild TBI, symptoms may include:
- Loss of consciousness for a few seconds to a few minutes
- Nausea or vomiting
- Feelings of confusion or disorientation
- Sleep difficulties
- Blurred vision
- Ringing in the ears
- Sensitivity to light or sound
- Memory problems
- Difficulty concentrating
Moderate to severe TBI can include any of the symptoms of mild injury on a more severe basis, as well as loss of consciousness from several minutes to several hours, convulsions, dilation of one or both pupils of the eyes, inability to be awakened from sleep, weakness in the extremities, loss of coordination, agitation or combativeness, slurred speech, or even coma.
Treatment for mild TBI may involve no more than allowing time for the brain to heal itself along with over-the-counter pain relievers. For moderate to severe TBI, more emphasis will be placed on ensuring the person is getting adequate oxygen and maintaining blood pressure. Care may focus on preventing further damage due to inflammation, bleeding or reduced oxygen supply to the brain.
Medications may be needed following a brain injury. Diuretics to reduce the fluid in tissues, or anti-seizure drugs. Sometimes doctors will induce temporary comas as a comatose brain needs less oxygen to function. At times, surgery will be necessary to minimize additional damage to the brain. Blood clots may need to be removed, or fractured bones in the skull may need to be removed. Sometimes an opening is made into the skull to relieve pressure by providing room for swollen tissue.
Most individuals who have had a moderate to severe TBI will require rehabilitation care. They may need to relearn basic skills such as walking or speech. There are many things that can help in coping with TBI, such as joining a support group, journaling if you have difficulties remembering dates and appointments, sticking to a routine, and doing what you can to minimize distractions.
TBI can be a life-altering condition, but with the support of family and friends, and direction by a qualified physician, you can overcome many of the setbacks experienced in the early days following an injury.