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17 Potential Physical & Cognitive Effects of Traumatic Brain Injury

how to treat the effects of traumatic brain injury

The side effects of traumatic brain injury can can affect everything from your physical movement to your personality.

Because every brain injury is unique, not every patient will experience the same side effects. However, having a clear understanding of the challenges you might face will help with recovery.

Physical Effects of Moderate and Severe Traumatic Brain Injury

A brain injury is considered moderate if a person was unconscious between twenty minutes and six hours. If a person was unconscious for longer than 6 hours, their injury is considered severe.

The following are the most common physical effects of moderate to severe brain injuries.

1. Movement Disorders

man stretching arm with physical therapist to relieve muscular effects of traumatic brain injury

Traumatic brain injuries that damage the primary motor cortex and other areas can cause a person serious movement difficulties.

The most common motor disorders are tremors, muscle spasms, and problems with coordination and balance.

Learn more about post-traumatic movement disorders »

2. Spasticity (Stiff muscles) 

Spasticity occurs when communication between your brain and muscles is damaged. 

Normally, your brain is able to send messages through the central nervous system to tell your muscles when to contract or relax, which helps your body maintain a comfortable muscle tone.

But sometimes after a brain injury, this message flow is interrupted, and your muscles no longer know whether they are supposed to tighten or relax.

As a result, the muscles stay in a constant state of flexion, which we call spasticity.

Read more about spasticity after TBI and how to treat it »

3. Persistent Headaches

woman rubbing her temples, suffering from headaches, common effects of traumatic brain injury

Headaches are one of the most common effects of traumatic brain injury. They can occur for several reasons, including:

  • Pain from surgery
  • Small collections of blood or fluid on the brain
  • Inflammation
  • Muscle tension
  • Nerve damage or pinching

Sometimes genetics can also cause headaches after an injury. For example, if you were already prone to migraines before your brain injury, chances are very high you will experience them afterward.

Read more about headaches after brain injury and how to stop them »

4. Brain Injury Paralysis

Brain injury paralysis is similar to spasticity, in that it is caused by poor neural connections.

But with brain injury paralysis (also known as hemiplegia) the connections between the brain and the muscle are so damaged that the muscles cannot move at all.

Learn more about brain injury paralysis »

5. Fatigue

man rubbing eyes because of fatigue

After a TBI, your brain has less energy to devote to other activities. This explains why you may feel more tired than usual when performing your daily routine.

There are three different types of fatigue you can experience after traumatic brain injury:

  • Physical fatigue 
  • Cognitive fatigue 
  • Psychological fatigue   

Learn how to overcome fatigue after TBI »

6. Incontinence (loss of bowel and bladder control)

Incontinence is the involuntary loss of control over the bladder and/or bowels. It occurs when the connection between the bladder and the brain is severed.

It is a very common side effect of severe brain injury. Fortunately, in most cases incontinence ceases once the brain heals. It can also be treated by retraining the brain

Learn more about incontinence after brain injury »

7. Dizziness and Balance Problems

There are several different causes for dizziness after brain injury, such as: 

  • Inner ear problems
  • Pinched nerve in your neck
  • Damage to the cerebellum, the part of your brain responsible for balance
  • Low blood pressure

The best way to treat dizziness is to address the underlying cause. For example, if you have inner ear damage, vestibular therapy can help.

Learn more about treating dizziness after head injury »

8. 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:

  • Blindness
  • Eye muscle weakness
  • Double or blurred vision

Learn more about treating traumatic brain injury eye problems »

9. Seizures

woman experiencing seizure, an effect of traumatic brain injury

Seizures are caused by a sudden surge of electrical activity in the brain, and are another possible side effect of traumatic brain injury.

They usually occur after a head injury that causes bleeding in the brain.

Read more about epilepsy after TBI »

Cognitive Effects of Traumatic Brain Injury

Besides physical problems, traumatic brain injury nearly always causes cognitive issues as well.

The following are the most common cognitive effects of brain injury:

10. Language Disorders

Traumatic brain injury often affects a person’s ability to produce and understand language.

The three most common types of language disorders you can develop after a brain injury are: 

  • Dysarthria. This disorder causes you to 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.

Read more about TBI communication disorders »

11. Attention Problems

Brain injury also causes a person difficulty with paying attention and staying concentrated.

These problems include trouble shifting attention between tasks and holding concentration long enough to finish a conversation.

Learn more about treating attention problems after brain injury »

12. Executive Dysfunction

Executive dysfunction refers to cognitive and emotional difficulties which normally occur after a frontal lobe brain injury.

Some executive functions include:

  • Planning and organizing
  • Initiative
  • Making decisions  
  • Understanding social cues

After a traumatic brain injury, these skills and others become harder to perform.

Read more about executive dysfunction after brain injury »

13. Memory Problems

man scratching head, struggling with memory problems which are common effects of traumatic brain injury

Memory problems are perhaps the most common cognitive effects of traumatic brain injury.

Damage to certain structures of the brain can cause both short-term and long-term memory loss. Cognitive rehabilitation exercises can  help treat these issues.

Learn all about memory problems after brain injury here »

14. Lack of Insight

Frontal lobe injuries can lead to difficulties with self-awareness and self-monitoring.

This can cause a person to say and do things that are rude or inappropriate. In severe cases, lack of insight can impair the person’s ability to recognize the effects of their brain injury.

Read more about lack of insight after  brain injury »

Emotional and Behavioral Complications of Traumatic Brain Injury

Finally, brain damage can effect a person’s ability to control their emotions and behavior.

15. Emotional Disorders

woman covering face with hands because she is dealing with emotional effects of brain injury

Severe TBI can lead to several emotional problems.  These are primarily caused by frontal lobe injuries.

Some emotional issues include: 

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Severe mood swings (emotional lability)
  • Lack of emotions (flat affect) 

Besides all these symptoms, a brain injury can also cause feelings of PTSD.

Learn more about emotional changes after brain injury »

16. Behavioral Problems

Traumatic brain injury can cause behavioral problems. These include:

  • Violent and aggressive behavior
  • Impulsivity
  • Rude words and actions
  • Increased frustration

These behaviors are frightening for friends and family to witness, but can be managed with the help of a psychologist familiar with traumatic brain injury.

Read more about brain injury and behavioral problems »

17. Personality Changes

Frontal lobe injuries sometimes cause a person’s entire personality to change. 

For example, a naturally thoughtful person might seem suddenly selfish and inconsiderate after their injury. Or sometimes the opposite change occurs and a gruff person can become more gentle.

Find out how to cope with personality changes after head injury »

And that’s it! We hope this guide to the most common effects of traumatic brain injury empowers you to overcome the obstacles you may face after your injury.

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