TBI: Frequently Asked Questions

What is traumatic brain injury?

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is damage to the brain that results when the head is hit, strikes a stationary object, or is violently shaken. Common causes of TBI are motor vehicle crashes, acts of violence, falls, and sports activities. A TBI can occur without any outward physical evidence of trauma. Damage to the brain may occur immediately or it may develop as a result of swelling or bleeding following injury. Common consequences of TBI can involve sensory, cognitive, behavioral and/or emotional impairments. Brain injuries are classified as mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the type of injury or pressure and changes in the brain.

Mild (75 percent of all injuries) – Results in concussion; brief or no loss of consciousness; dazed, vacant stare right after injury; delayed response to questions or commands; disorientation and foggy memory; headaches; dizziness or nausea; slurred speech; and (usually) no complications.

Moderate – Results in loss of consciousness ranging from a few minutes to a few hours, followed by days or weeks of confusion

Severe - Results in prolonged loss of consciousness or coma lasting days, weeks, or even longer, with marked differences in performance.

What is the difference between open head injury and closed head injury?

An open head injury occurs when an external object (e.g., a bullet) penetrates the skull and damages brain tissue in its direct path. These types of injuries often cause predictable and specific impairments due to the localized nature of the damage.
A closed head injury is caused by rapid deceleration or striking the head against another object. The type and severity of the resulting impairments are unpredictable because of the diffuse nature of secondary tissue damage.

How is brain function affected by a TBI ?

How function is affected depends on which cells are damaged and to what extent. It is well documented that specific areas of the brain control certain functions. The diffuse damage usually caused by a closed head injury produces unpredictable and inconsistent limitations. The contact of the brain with the skull at the actual point of impact and the consequent motion as the brain strikes the opposite side of the skull after the initial impact cause contusions to develop on the brain at each point of contact. Secondary damage can be caused when tissue is torn, compressed, or twisted from the violent force moving the brain within the skull. Open head injuries usually cause localized damage, which in turn causes limitations in those functions associated with the damaged area(s).

Is TBI the same thing as a brain injury?

A TBI is only one type of brain injury. There is also acquired brain injury, or ABI , which is caused by strokes, tumors, hypoxia, toxins, degenerative diseases or other conditions not necessarily caused by an external force.

Are a brain injury and a head injury the same thing?

The terms are often used interchangeably. However, most people associate the phrase "head injury" with some type of outward physical damage to the head or face, such as a cut which may only superficially injure the skin. A very serious brain injury causing extensive functional limitations can occur without any outward physical symptoms.

Do brain injuries only occur with a loss of consciousness?

No. Serious impairments may result from an injury in which the person remains responsive and lucid. However, most brain injuries are characterized by some period of altered consciousness (e.g., amnesia, coma), and this state may last for a matter of minutes, hours or indefinitely. Loss of consciousness usually accompanies a closed head injury, whereas an open head injury may not cause any loss of consciousness. Resulting impairments tend to be more severe the longer the person is unconscious.

What are the long-term consequences of a TBI ?

Traumatic brain injury is not a one-time event; it has long-term effects and may cause numerous physical, emotional, cognitive, and social changes for individuals and their families. TBI may place enormous emotional and financial burdens on the family. There may be extreme difficulty with return to work or school.