Traumatic brain injury, often referred to as TBI, is an injury to the brain typically resulting in a person experiencing symptoms of confusion, memory loss, disorientation, or decreased cognitive efficiency. The most common type of traumatic brain injury is often called “mild” TBI. This description of the injury, however, is unfortunate as often times the effects of a traumatic brain injury on a person’s life are far from “mild”. A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury. Most often concussions resolve completely in the person is able to return to normal functioning relatively quickly and without experiencing any persisting problems.
A traumatic brain injury occurs when the brain is subjected to a sudden trauma, often when the head is suddenly and violently struck by an object, when the head is subjected to significant forces causing it to be shaken forward and backward or side to side without striking an object, or when an object pierces the skull and enters brain tissue. While moderate and severe brain injuries often result in a person losing consciousness or experiencing a profound period of confusion and loss of function a person who experiences a “mild” injury may not lose consciousness at all and maybe only momentarily dazed. Symptoms often experienced by patients with mild TBI include thinking problems such as memory difficulties, mental inefficiency, feeling cognitively overwhelmed, difficulty concentrating, experiencing speech and word finding problems, and having difficulty with organizational strategies. Physical problems often include headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, sleep problems, ringing in the ears, balance difficulties, and significant fatigue. Emotional changes can also occur and typically involve irritability, decreased patience, frustration, low motivation, worry, personality changes, and depression.
The most prominent aspect of TBI, however, is that the symptoms of each of these three areas (physical, emotional, and cognitive) can interact with each other and result in a person experiencing a much poorer overall level of functioning that would otherwise be predicted based on the problems associated with just one of those areas. There exists a synergistic relationship between a person’s physical, cognitive, and emotional functioning combined, which leads to a result of the whole level of their impairment being worse than the sum of the individual parts. That is, on any given day, as a person’s functioning in any one of those three areas becomes more problematic for them, they can experience a concomitant reduction in functioning in the other two domains by virtue of the interaction effect among the three functional areas. For example, increased pain leads to greater emotional distress and a reduction in cognitive ability. A particularly emotionally trying experience can result in an increase in muscle tightening and headache as well as causing a reduction in functional cognitive ability. Reduced cognitive ability can have a similar effect upon the other domains of physical and emotional functioning.
Fortunately, this model of problems experienced by a patient who suffers a TBI leads to a roadmap for treatment of the condition. For further information read our section on Treatment of TBI.