Traumatic Brain Injury Symptoms & Causes

The expert team of neurosurgeons and neurologists at Cushing Neuroscience Institute's Traumatic Brain Injury Center specializes in comprehensive evaluation and diagnosis of head trauma causes and symptoms in conjunction the development of personalized treatment plans for injuries caused by sudden brain trauma.

Traumatic brain injury symptoms or head trauma can be mild, moderate or severe, depending on the extent and cause of the brain damage. It is important to contact a physician immediately if a traumatic brain injury is suspected.

A person with a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) may remain conscious or may experience a loss of consciousness for a few seconds or minutes. Symptoms of mild traumatic brain injuries include:

  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Blurred vision or tired eyes
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Bad taste in the mouth
  • Fatigue or lethargy
  • Change in sleep patterns
  • Behavioral or mood changes
     

A person with moderate or severe traumatic brain injuries or head trauma may show the above symptoms, but may also show these symptoms:

  • Headache that gets worse or does not go away
  • Repeated vomiting or nausea
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • 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
  • Increased confusion, restlessness or agitation.
     

Other traumatic brain injury or head trauma symptoms may include:

  • Leaking spinal fluid (thin water-looking liquid) out of the ears or nose
  • Respiratory failure
  • Coma or semi-comatose state
  • Paralysis, difficult movement, poor coordination
  • Slow pulse
  • Decreased breathing rate, with elevated blood pressure
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty “thinking straight,” memory problems, poor judgment and attention span, reduced speed of thought processing
  • Inappropriate emotional reactions including irritability, feeling frustrated easily, crying or laughing unsuitably
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Loss of bowel control or bladder control
     

Causes of Brain Damage
Traumatic brain injury (TBI), also called acquired brain injury or head injury occurs when sudden trauma causes damage to the brain. TBI can result when the head suddenly and violently hits an object or when an object pierces the skull and enters brain tissue. Symptoms of traumatic brain injury or head trauma can be mild, moderate or severe, depending on the extent of the injury to the brain. Additional causes of brain damage include:

  • Open head injury is caused by the penetration of an object through the skull, such as a bullet
  • Closed head injury may occur from a slip and fall or a motor vehicle accident.
  • Deceleration injury occurs when an accelerating person stops suddenly. When that happens, the brain moves at a different rate than the skull–known as "differential movement." As a result of the differential movement of the skull and the brain when the head is struck, both direct brain injury and indirect brain injury occurs. Deceleration injury commonly results from motor vehicle accidents.
  • Chemicals or toxins like insecticides, solvents and carbon monoxide can cause brain damage.
  • Hypoxia, or lack of oxygen, may cause irreversible brain injury. Hypoxia may be caused by heart attacks, respiratory failure, drops in blood pressure and a low-oxygen environment.
  • Brain tumors can cause brain damage by invading the spaces of the brain and causing direct damage. Damage can also result from pressure effects around an enlarged tumor.
  • Viral and bacterial infections can cause serious and life-threatening diseases of the brain such as encephalitis and meningitis, if the special blood-brain protective system is breached. Uncommon in the United States, encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain. Meningitis is a bacterial infection of the membranes (meninges) covering the brain and spinal cord.
  • Stroke can also cause brain injury, if blood flow is blocked through a cerebral vascular accident (stroke). Cell death in the area deprived of blood will result. If there is bleeding in or over the brain because of a tear in an artery or vein, loss of blood flow and injury to the brain tissue by the blood will also cause brain damage.
     

The Traumatic Brain Injury Center offers diagnostic tests to help assess the severity, location and type of injury to the brain. Diagnostic tests may include:

  • Blood tests
  • X-ray — a diagnostic test that uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of the skull and spine onto film
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) — a diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radio frequencies and a computer to produce detailed images of the nervous system
  • Computed tomography scan (CT or CAT scan) — a diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of x-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images, or slices, of the body, both horizontally and vertically. A CAT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat and organs. CAT scans are more detailed than general x-rays
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG) — a procedure that records the brain's continuous, electrical activity by means of electrodes attached to the scalp

Make an appointment at our Traumatic Brain Injury Center
Cushing Neuroscience Institute makes it easy for you to take the first steps in ensuring the best neurological care for yourself or your family. Simply click on Request an Appointment, call us at (516) 562-3816 or email us at neuro@nshs.edu.