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Traumatic Brain Injury: Leading causes and symptoms

Have you ever hit your head accidentally? Afterward, did you notice headaches, or noise sensitivity, or trouble concentrating? You could have been among the 1.7 million Americans estimated to suffer a traumatic brain injury (TBI) each year.

TBI can occur when the head gets either:

  • jerked back and forth quickly
  • struck or bumped (even seemingly mildly)

This sudden movement can literally make the brain bounce around or twist inside the skulL The result: damaged brain cells and chemical changes in the brain.

Most people with a TBI recover quickly, but in some cases symptoms can go on for weeks or even longer. In general, recovery takes longer for older adults, young children and teens. If you've had a TBI in the past, you're at greater risk of having another -- and your recovery time may be longer.

(Just because a person does not suffer a loss of consciousness, do not assume that possible brain injury has been avoided. A concussion is only one type of Traumatic Brain Injury and most concussions do not display as a loss of consciousness.)

If you think that you or someone you care for may have a TBI, don't brush it off. In extreme cases, TBI can lead to coma and even death. Consult a healthcare professional for a referral to a specialist. Getting help soon after an incident can speed recovery.

Leading causes of TBI

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the leading causes of TBI in America are:

  • Falls: Leading cause of TBI in the US (35%), accounting for half of all cases in children (under the age of 14) and nearly 100% among seniors (over age 65).
  • Motor vehicle and traffic related: Second most common cause of TBI (17%) and leading cause of TBI-related deaths. These numbers could be reduced through 1) the proper use of child safety seats and seat belts in moving vehicles and 2) never driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Struck by moving or stationary object: Responsible for approximately 16% of all TBI cases. Second leading cause among children, accounting for a quarter of instances for this age group.
  • Assault: Account for 10% of all TBI cases, though rarely a TBI factor for children or elderly.
  • Blasts: A leading cause among active military personnel, though not tracked by the CDC.

Symptoms of TBI

Thinking / Remembering Physical Emotional / Mood Sleep
Difficulty thinking clearly Feeling slowed down Difficulty concentrating Difficulty remembering new information
Fuzzy or blurry vision
Nausea or vomiting
(early on) dizziness
Noise or light sensitivity
Balance problems
Feeling tired
Having no energy
Irritability Sadness More emotional Nervousness or
Sleeping more
than usual
Sleeping less
than usual
Trouble falling asleep  

Preventing or minimizing sports related head injuries

  • Encourage athletes to always play safely and practice good sportsmanship.
  • Wear appropriate, properly-fitted protective gear.
  • Do persuade an athlete who's "had their bell rung" to quickly get back in the game. Rest is important after a blow to the head.
  • Some leagues/teams conduct preseason neurocognitive tests to establish each athlete's baseline level of learning, memory and problem solving skills. These tests can then be readministered after a possible head injury to asses any possible cause for concern.

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Showing comment(s)
February 23, 2015
It is devastating to know that so many young people are returning with TBI after serving in the Middle East. I recently read this article on about the promising potential from, of all things, fish oil:

I'd be so interested to hear if they are using this both for troops currently serving as a possible "buffer" against future head injuries as well as in the VA for those who are suffering from TBI. I also wonder if sports teams are using this information. If you or anyone can, comment on this, I would appreciate it. Thank you.
Sheryl at
February 26, 2015
What a wonderful article. Thank you for sharing it. Personally, I have not heard if fish oil is being used by the military or sports teams but hopefully, some of our readers will chime in.
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