What Is Traumatic Brain Injury?


Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is responsible for many disabilities and deaths worldwide each year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that in the United States alone, over 64,000 deaths occur due to TBI. In other words, 176 Americans¹ die from TBI-related injuries every day. 

TBI also causes over 223,000 hospitalizations annually, or 611 hospitalizations a day. Experts believe these figures are underreported² because they do not cover the cases of TBI seen in emergency departments, urgent care facilities, or those that go untreated.

TBI Meaning

The brain is a fragile organ encased in the skull. However, great force (trauma) can cause the brain to hit the skull and become injured. TBIs are unlike anoxic brain injuries in that they are head traumas caused by an outside force. Anoxic brain injuries are caused by internal issues that reduce oxygen and blood flow to the brain. 

Trauma Definition

Trauma is the body’s response to a terrible event, series of events, or accident. These events have adverse effects on a person’s physical, social, or emotional well-being. In the case of TBI, the physical trauma to the brain results in short-term, long-term, or permanent damage. 

Types Of Traumatic Brain Injuries 

Man receiving first aid for head injury

There are two categories of brain injury classifications related to the nature of the injury. This includes:

1. Closed Head Injury 

In a closed head injury, the skull is not broken, and the brain is not exposed. For instance, if a heavy object hits the head forcefully without breaking the skull. 

2. Penetrating Head Injury 

Penetrating head injury is also called an open head injury. In this case, the skull is broken, and the brain’s outer covering (the dura mater) is breached, as in a firearm injury. 

Features Of The injury 

It is also possible to classify TBI based on its pathological features. In that case, the TBI gets classified as being diffuse or focal.


In diffuse TBI, there is little or no apparent damage when examined with imaging studies, but lesions are visible in microscopic post-mortem examinations. Diffuse TBI includes concussions, swelling (edema), and diffuse axonal injury.


In focal TBI, there is damage to a part of the brain. Since each part of the brain is responsible for specific actions, these focal injuries manifest as the absence of function by the injured part. For example, damage to the olfactory cortex—responsible for smell and taste—will manifest as an inability to smell or taste.

Potential Causes Of Traumatic Brain Injury 

3d illustration of head injury or headache

Any external force exerted on the brain can cause a TBI. The most common causes of TBI include: 

  • Falls
  • Child abuse 
  • Sports injuries 
  • Firearm injuries 
  • Construction accidents
  • Transportation accidents 


The symptoms³ of TBI manifest in changes that affect physical, sensory, and behavioral conditions. Head injury symptoms can appear immediately or several days later. The signs also differ depending on age and severity. 

Symptoms Of Mild Traumatic Brain Injury 

3d illustration of brain injury

Doctors can classify the severity of a traumatic brain injury as mild, moderate, or severe. The severity of the injury usually depends on the amount of force involved in the trauma. 

Symptoms of mild TBI include: 

  • Headache 
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue 
  • Drowsiness 
  • Speech difficulties 
  • Dizziness 
  • Loss of balance 
  • Blurred vision
  • Ringing in the ears 
  • Anosmia (inability to smell)
  • Increased sensitivity to sound or light
  • A change in taste perception or a bad taste in the mouth
  • Brief loss of consciousness 
  • Confusion/Disorientation 
  • Memory loss
  • Concentration difficulties 
  • Mood swings 
  • Feelings of anxiety
  • Feelings of severe sadness 
  • Excessive sleep 
  • Insomnia 

Symptoms Of Moderate To Severe Traumatic Brain Injury

A severe to moderate definition of TBI includes all those listed for mild TBI along with these symptoms: 

  • Convulsions 
  • Loss of consciousness 
  • Headache 
  • Repeated vomiting 
  • Dilation of the pupils 
  • Fluids draining from ears, nose, mouth, or head
  • Inability to wake from sleep
  • Inability to move limbs 
  • Numbness in the extremities (fingers and toes)
  • Weakness in the extremities
  • Loss of coordination 
  • Slurred speech 
  • Confusion 
  • Agitation 
  • Coma

Symptoms Of Traumatic Brain Injury In Children 

Children and infants with TBI are often unable to express confusion or headaches. They may also be unable to express a change in taste. Symptoms to look for in this age group are: 

  • Sad mood 
  • Drowsiness
  • Convulsions 
  • Excessive crying  
  • Unusual irritability 
  • Change in feeding habits
  • Lowered attention span 
  • Change in sleep habits 
  • Loss of interest in play 


TBI treatment depends on the severity of the condition but usually consists of these treatment options:

1. Bed Rest

Bed rest is the usual treatment for mild TBI. However, the person needs to be monitored closely for any indications that their condition might be worsening.

During bed rest, medication is administered if needed. Follow-up visits with the doctor are likely. Most people can expect a gradual return to normal activities.

 2. Medication 

In moderate or severe TBI, medications may relieve pain, protect the brain, and limit the spread of the injury. Some of the medications used include 

  • Pain relievers – For headache pain
  • Diuretics – To reduce the fluid in the body and brain 
  • Anticonvulsants – For preventing convulsions which can worsen TBI
  • Coma-inducing medication – Induces a temporary state of coma, which reduces the oxygen demand of the brain and promotes healing 

3. Surgery

Surgery is a treatment option for moderate to severe TBI. Examples of surgery in TBI management are: 

  • Controlling bleeding
  • Removal of blood clots 
  • Repair of skull fractures 
  • Relieving pressure caused by accumulated fluid or swollen brain tissue

4. Rehabilitation 

Moderate to severe TBI recovery often requires rehabilitation. Rehabilitation involves many specialists depending on the care needed. The aim is to help the patient regain as much of their normal function as possible. Rehabilitation often involves relearning basic functions and skills like talking, walking, and writing.


3d illustration of headache or brain injury

People who have mild TBI can usually expect a full recovery. Severe and moderate TBI can lead to lifelong disability or permanent brain damage, while some TBIs are fatal. 

Knowing the difference between the different kinds of TBI can be difficult. Trained healthcare professionals should evaluate all suspected TBI cases for the best chance of recovery.

Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer

If you’ve been injured in an accident you may be eligible to receive compensation for your injuries. Contact our experienced team of personal injury lawyers for a free consultation about your situation.


¹Traumatic Brain Injury & Concussion. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved 10 June 2022. 

²Traumatic Brain Injury. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved 10 June 2022.

³Traumatic Brain Injury. Medicine Plus. Retrieved 10 June 2022.