Have you ever fallen and bumped your head? Or bumped your head in a car accident and ended up with a bump? Sometimes you can hit your head and end up with a small bump or “goose egg” where the blow occurred. You might notice some pain and tenderness in the area that goes away after a few days. But how do you know when a blow to the head is something more serious, like a minor brain injury? The truth is, even what seems like a small bump to the head can impact your brain. Your skull is made up of bones that surround and protect your brain, and there’s a membrane layer that allows the brain some room to move around with simple, everyday movements. However, a sudden impact to the head can cause your brain to collide with the skull, which can lead to bruising or even bleeding on the brain. Here’s what you need to know about traumatic brain injuries and the possible long-term effects.
What Is a Traumatic Brain Injury?
A traumatic brain injury, or TBI, refers to a situation when you suffer a blow to the head. The two most common causes of traumatic brain injury are falls and car accidents. You might accidentally slip and fall, hitting your head on the floor when you land. Or another vehicle collides with yours and the force of impact jolts and jostles you around so that you end up hitting your head on the dashboard. Traumatic brain injuries can range from minor to severe depending on what type of damage is done to the brain and whether the effects will be permanent or result in death.
Risk Factors for a TBI
A traumatic brain injury can happen to anyone, though TBIs are more common in males than females and more likely to occur in adults over the age of 65. Older adults are more likely to have difficulty with balance, which can result in falls and hitting their heads. Athletes, military members, and law enforcement are also at greater risk for traumatic brain injuries. Both professional and recreational athletes who play contact sports like football or hockey can be at risk for a TBI, though an increase in stricter protocols is aimed at reducing these injuries. Military and law enforcement experience higher rates of TBIs than the general population because they are at risk for head and brain injuries from explosions during training or combat.
Types of Traumatic Brain Injuries
There are several different types of traumatic brain injuries. The type of TBI will depend on the severity of the injury, what type of neurological symptoms occur, whether loss of consciousness occurred and if any abnormalities show up on a diagnostic scan. Here are five examples of the most common types of traumatic brain injuries:
A mild TBI is also known as a concussion. Concussions are the most common type of traumatic brain injury and account for around 75% of all diagnosed TBIs each year. A mild TBI or concussion may result in a brief loss of consciousness for less than 30 minutes. Symptoms of a mild TBI include disorientation, confusion, and difficulty with memory and attention span.
A moderate TBI refers to a type of head injury where you lose consciousness for over 30 minutes but regain consciousness within one day.
A severe TBI involves significant head trauma and will result in losing consciousness for at least one day.
A contusion refers to a bruise that develops on the brain. This type of bruise can lead to bleeding and swelling where the blow to the head occurred and even inside the brain.
Edema is another word for swelling on the brain because of a head injury. The skull provides a tough outer shell to protect your brain, which means it cannot accommodate a large amount of swelling. Edema can lead to pressure building up on your brain.
Hemorrhage refers to uncontrollable bleeding. If you experience a brain hemorrhage, you may have bleeding in or around the brain.
A hematoma refers to blood clotting that can develop in or around the brain. Blood clots outside of blood vessels can also cause pressure to build up around the brain, resulting in brain damage.
Open vs. Closed TBI
An open TBI refers to a penetrating head wound where something like a bullet or knife breaks the skin and goes through the skull. If an object makes its way to the brain, it can damage brain tissue. A closed TBI is the more common type of traumatic brain injury and means an outside force like a blow to the head led to swelling or bleeding on the brain, though it did not penetrate the skull.
What to Expect with a Mild Concussion
A mild concussion can happen while playing sports and getting tackled the wrong way or during the unfortunate event of a motor vehicle accident. The sudden force of impact can cause your brain to collide with the hard walls of your skull. While a mild concussion typically results in symptoms that only last for a certain period of time, if you experience multiple concussions over time, you could end up with more permanent damage. A head injury doesn’t always cause symptoms right away, so there are certain things you want to look out for. If you suspect a concussion after a blow to the head, you should pay attention to the symptoms you experience. If you have a friend or family member nearby or who can stay with you, ask them to observe you for any signs of head trauma or changes in your behavior. If you hit your head and lose consciousness, always seek immediate medical attention.
Symptoms of a Minor Brain Injury
A minor brain injury can cause a wide range of symptoms, so no two people will experience the exact same symptoms. In addition to physical symptoms, you may also experience symptoms that affect your cognition or thinking skills and your emotions. Here are signs and symptoms to look out for that may signal a minor brain injury:
Physical symptoms of a minor brain injury may include headache, nausea, and vomiting. You may also experience dizziness or fatigue after a TBI. Other physical symptoms of a minor brain injury include loss of consciousness, seizures, and abnormal eye movements. It can take a while for physical symptoms of a concussion to set in, so you might not develop a headache or feel fatigued for minutes or hours after the initial blow to the head.
After a blow to the head, you may feel dazed or have trouble concentrating. A minor brain injury can impact your memory, so you may have difficulty remembering how the head injury occurred and what happened in the minutes or hours before that. You might have difficulty following directions or conversations around you.
Emotional symptoms of a minor brain injury can include mood swings and changes in personality. These types of symptoms can vary depending on your typical moods and personality style. For example, a sudden increase in irritability and anger for an otherwise happy and bubbly person might be a symptom of a brain injury. Other emotional symptoms may include increased anxiety or sadness.
Sometimes those around you can observe symptoms you might not be aware of. For example, some observable symptoms can include changes in personality you don’t fully realize have occurred. You may also have trouble following along in a conversation but not realize it.
5 Long-Term Effects of a Minor Concussion
You always want to seek medical attention as soon as possible after a head injury. Without prompt treatment, you run the risk of developing serious complications. Treating a minor brain injury as soon as possible can help reduce the long-term effects. Treatment options for a brain injury will depend on the type and severity of the injury. Symptoms of a minor brain injury will typically resolve after a few days to a week, though they can last as long as a month while your brain heals. However, there are also grave consequences of traumatic brain injuries, so you want to stay alert to possible symptoms and get treated promptly to avoid these potential long-term effects of a minor concussion:
It is possible to experience headaches that last for months after the initial head injury occurred, especially if you did not receive prompt medical treatment. Pain from headaches may gradually get worse with time or spread from one part of the head to other areas. Both tension headaches and migraine headaches are common after a concussion. Tension headaches typically feel like a tight band is wrapped around your head. Migraines can cause painful, debilitating headaches and other symptoms like nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and reduced functioning.
Another potential long-term effect of a mild brain injury is dizziness. A concussion or other type of head injury can impact the healthy functioning of your vestibular system, which is what your brain uses to stay balanced and stabilized. Damage to your vestibular system can lead to difficulties with spatial awareness, and you may develop dizziness or vertigo. Vertigo is an intense experience of dizziness where you feel like the room around you is spinning or moving. You might have difficulty keeping your balance and going about your day normally.
People who have suffered concussions tend to report sleep disturbances like extended periods of drowsiness or bouts of insomnia. Drowsiness after a head injury can make it difficult for you to stay alert, and you may struggle to wake up and stay active throughout the day. If you struggle with insomnia, then you might have trouble falling asleep at night or waking up frequently throughout the night. A minor brain injury can disrupt your typical sleep routine and leave you feeling too tired to go about your day like you typically would.
Some people develop what is known as photophobia, or light sensitivity, after a brain injury. A minor brain injury can affect how the brain filters visual information. Light sensitivity can persist for months at a time, and you might find bright, glaring lights uncomfortable or even painful. Some people with photophobia get headaches after being exposed to bright lights, which can make your pain and discomfort worse. Light sensitivity can trigger a migraine attack or lead to blurry vision, double vision, or eye strain.
You could experience mood swings long after other symptoms of a concussion have resolved. A mild brain injury can cause damage to parts of the brain that regulate your moods and emotions. You might struggle to experience more positive emotions and find that negative outbursts occur more frequently. People who have had a minor brain injury tend to experience a shortened temper and may require more patience and understanding as they recover. As the brain starts to heal, you will gradually regain control of your emotions and experience more positive moods again.
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, is a condition that can develop after you have experienced multiple concussions or brain injuries. Even a minor brain injury can lead to CTE if you suffer multiple blows to the head over an extended period of time. Professional athletes are at greater risk for long-term effects of brain injuries developing into CTE, which refers to progressive degeneration of the brain over time. People who develop CTE may not exhibit symptoms for years after the brain injuries took place.
Treatment & Prevention of Minor Brain Injuries
Visit AICA Orthopedics in metro Atlanta for prompt, comprehensive treatment and care for concussions and minor brain injuries. Our team of doctors includes orthopedic doctors, neurologists, chiropractors, and physical therapists with access to state-of-the-art diagnostic technologies to identify your type of brain injury and get you started on treatment to help prevent long-term effects.