The side effects of traumatic brain injury can be scary to think about.
However, having a clear understanding of the challenges you may face after your brain injury is crucial for making a good recovery.
That’s why we’ve put together this list of all the major effects of traumatic brain injury.
We’ve also included treatment options for each symptom so that you will know exactly what to do if and when any of them arise.
We will start by learning the symptoms of mild traumatic brain injury, then move on to covering the effects of moderate and severe brain damage.
What Is Traumatic Brain Injury?
Traumatic brain injury is defined as damage to the brain following a blow or jolt to the head that causes a disruption of normal brain function.
Traumatic brain injury can be split into two categories: mild and severe.
A brain injury is considered mild if loss of consciousness and disorientation last less than 30 minutes.
Although the injury may be called mild, the effects of mild traumatic brain injury can be quite damaging if left untreated.
Effects of Mild Traumatic Brain Injury
The following are the most common side effects of a mild traumatic brain injury. It should be noted many of these symptoms are present in moderate and severe TBI cases as well.
1. Cognitive Effects
Difficulties with executive function (e.g. decision making and planning), learning, memory, attention and processing are some of the most likely cognitive effects of mild traumatic brain injury.
Treating these cognitive deficits can be difficult, but it is possible to improve function after brain injury.
The best way to do this is through repetitive exercises that trigger neuroplasticity, the natural process your brain uses to rewire itself!
As you engage your brain through repetition, your brain creates new neural pathways that allow a different, undamaged portion of your brain to take control.
Which means the more you practice an action, the easier it will become.
This is a big part of all brain injury rehab exercises. No matter what ability you want to improve or regain, you’re going to need do lots and lots of exercises!
So this means to regain cognitive functions, you should practice cognitive exercises that engage different parts of your brain.
2. Migraines and Light Sensitivity
Persistent headaches and sensitivity to light are also very common effects of traumatic brain injury.
The best way to treat migraines and light sensitivity is to get lots of sleep, which will allow your brain to heal itself.
Ibuprofen and naproxen can also be helpful for reducing headache pain and frequency.
Other things you can do to manage headaches after mild TBI are:
- Drink lots of water.
- Eat foods rich in magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids and riboflavin. Salmon, blueberries, avocados and dark chocolate are good sources of those nutrients.
- Try physical therapy. Sometimes headaches after brain injury are actually caused by whiplash. If your headaches do not subside after a few months, it’s possible the issue is stemming from your neck. PT exercises can help alleviate that.
3. Sleep problems
A very common effect of mild traumatic brain injury is extreme drowsiness and/or insomnia.
This is normal. After a TBI, your brain needs sleep to heal.
So, if you feel like you need to sleep, listen to your body and take a nap.
If drowsiness and fatigue are really affecting you, even when you get a full night’s sleep, it’s possible you may have developed a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea.
If this is the case, you should consult a sleep specialist who can diagnose any sleep disorders you may have and recommend the best treatment options.
Exercise is also an effective way to manage fatigue after TBI. Aerobic exercise increases oxygen and blood flow to the brain, which will help make you more alert.
4. Emotional Effects
This is one many people overlook after a mild TBI, but again it is very common.
Your emotions are controlled by your brain, and they are usually one of the things most affected by a brain injury.
For example, the frontal lobe helps govern personality and impulses, and if it becomes damaged, you may find you cannot control your anger and aggression like you used to.
It’s important for both you and your family members to understand that these changes are not your fault, they are a side effect of your traumatic brain injury.
However, that doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do to manage your emotions anymore.
Here are a few effective strategies you can take to regain control over your mood and behavior:
- Let people in. Don’t try to hide your difficulties or manage your emotions all on your own. Let your friends, family and coworkers know about the problems you are having and ask for their help and support.
- Understand your behavior. Recognizing the things that tend to trigger your negative emotions can help you manage your mood better. For example, if you notice when you are hungry you get more frustrated, try setting an alarm to remind you to eat. This will help you avoid hunger and stay in control.
- Diet and exercise. Your diet and exercise play a huge role in your emotional health, with or without a brain injury. If possible, try doing some form of physical exercise for at least fifteen minutes a day. Also, be sure to incorporate foods that promote brain function (e.g. fatty fish, pomegranates, and avocadoes) into your diet. These can help you stabilize your moods and feel more in control over your emotions.
- Manage stress. We know, this one is much easier said than done! Still, keeping stress to a minimum is crucial for reducing extreme mood swings. Meditation and breathing exercises are great, quick ways to clear your mind and decrease stress after brain injury.
5. Depression and Anxiety
This is another effect of mild traumatic brain injury that is very common but often overlooked.
While depression often has multiple causes, the sudden loss of abilities that a person experiences after traumatic brain injury, combined with the sense of loneliness and isolation, all contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety in TBI patients.
To treat depression and anxiety, you should consult a professional psychologist, preferably one familiar with the effects of traumatic brain injury.
You can also participate in insight-oriented psychotherapy. It helps you learn what triggers negative emotion and identify ways to cope. It can be very helpful for people suffering the effects of traumatic brain injury. A neuropsychologist is the best person to teach you all the ways you can implement this therapy into your daily life.
Now that we have learned some of the effects of mild traumatic brain injury, it’s time to turn our attention to the effects of moderate and severe TBI.
Effects of Moderate and Severe Traumatic Brain Injury
A moderate traumatic brain injury is defined as an injury that results in a loss of consciousness that lasts between 30 minutes and six hours. Severe TBI is one that lasts more than six hours.
The effects of moderate and severe TBI are wide ranging and affect nearly every aspect of a person’s life, including their ability to connect and empathize with others.
With that said, there are lots of ways to mitigate the effects of your brain damage and regain lost abilities!
Below are the most common effects of moderate to severe traumatic brain injuries and the treatment options available.
6. Language Problems
Traumatic brain injury often affects a person’s ability to produce and understand language.
There are three types of language disorders you can develop after a brain injury: dysarthria, apraxia of speech, and aphasia.
- Dysarthria is when you slur your words and have difficulty moving your lips
- Apraxia of speech occurs when you mispronounce simple, everyday words but have no trouble moving your lips
- Aphasia refers to difficulties understanding and/or producing the right words.
Some brain injury survivors will regain the ability to speak on their own, but sometimes you may have to work hard to learn how to speak again after brain injury.
The best treatment for these conditions is massed practice of speech therapy exercises.
Massed practice just means high repetition. Practicing these exercises frequently will engage neuroplasticity to retrain your brain and help you relearn how to speak!
7. Vision and Perception Problems
Problems related to vision and perception are also possible effects of traumatic brain injury.
Some of the most common vision issues after brain injury are:
- Weakness of eye muscles
- Double or blurred vision
- Involuntary eye movements
Corrective lenses are often able to compensate for some of these problems, but sometimes surgery may be necessary.
You should consult an ophthalmologist for advice on the best treatments available for you.
8. Muscular Problems
Spasticity and weakness of muscles in the arms and legs are common problems after brain injury. It’s caused by communication problems between your brain and muscles.
After a brain injury, your muscles no longer receive the messages your brain sends which tells them to relax or contract, so they end up staying permanently contracted.
The best way to treat spasticity then is to rewire your brain through spasticity exercises. This will help repair the brain’s communication with your muscles.
Seizures are caused by a sudden surge of electrical activity in the brain, and are another possible side effect of traumatic brain injury. In rare cases, it may lead to epilepsy after TBI.
They usually occur after a head injury that causes bleeding in the brain.
The best treatment for seizures is anti-seizure medication. In severe cases an implant that stimulates your nerves with electrical impulses, called vagus nerve stimulator, can be attached to your neck.
10. Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)
This is a progressive, degenerative disease that is usually found in athletes with repeated head trauma.
Symptoms of CTE are similar to the effects of traumatic brain injury already covered: persistent headaches, cognitive impairments, emotional and behavioral issues, depression, etc.
However, these symptoms usually appear years, sometimes decades, after injury.
Unfortunately, there is currently no way to officially diagnose a person with CTE while they are alive, though scientists are working hard to develop one.
There is also no treatment for CTE itself yet; instead, what doctors recommend is to treat the symptoms, just like any other brain injury. Many of the treatments listed in this article can be used to manage CTE.
Some Last Words on Effects of Traumatic Brain Injury
And that’s it! We hope this guide to the most common effects of traumatic brain injury was informative and helpful for you.
We know it probably all seems overwhelming right now, but this information is meant to empower and strengthen you to overcome the obstacles you may face after your injury.
If there’s only one thing we hope you take away from this article, it is this:
Your brain’s natural ability to rewire itself means even the most severe effects of traumatic brain injury can be treated.
With the right treatment plan and consistent exercise, there can be hope for recovering your abilities, no matter how much you have lost.