Traumatic Brain Injury Overview

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), often called the signature wound of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, occurs when a sudden trauma or head injury disrupts the function of the brain. Common causes of TBI include damage caused by explosive devices, falls and vehicle or motorcycle accidents. Most reported TBI among Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom servicemembers and veterans has been traced back to Improvised Explosive Devices, or IEDs, used extensively against Coalition Forces.

Disability Compensation

The VA recently increased the disability rating for TBI vets. Depending on the extent of the injury, vets are now eligible up to 100% disablity rating; this change goes into effect on October 24, 2008 and older cases may have their case reviewed. If you are military veteran with a service-related disability you may qualify for compensation ranging from $117 to more than $3,000 in monthly benefits. Learn more about veteran disability compensation.

Range of Symptoms

Symptoms can appear immediately or weeks to months following the injury. Depending upon the severity of the wound, TBI injuries fall into different categories: 

(MTBI), commonly referred to as a concussion, is a brief loss of consciousness or disorientation ranging up to 30 minutes. Though damage may not be visible on an MRI or CAT scan, common symptoms of MTBI include headache, confusion, lightheadedness, dizziness, blurred vision or tired eyes, ringing in the ears, bad taste in the mouth, fatigue or lethargy, a change in sleep patterns, behavioral or mood changes, and trouble with memory, concentration or attention. MTBI can have long-term effects, known as post-concussion syndrome (PCS). Those who suffer from PCS can experience significant changes in cognition and personality.

Severe Traumatic Brain Injury is associated with loss of consciousness for over 30 minutes, or amnesia. Symptoms of Severe TBI include all those of MTBI, as well as headaches that gets worse or do not go away, repeated vomiting or nausea, convulsions or seizures, inability to awaken from sleep, dilation of one or both pupils of the eyes (also known as anisocoria), slurred speech, weakness or numbness in the extremities, loss of coordination, and increased confusion, restlessness, or agitation.

Effects on the Brain

Damage to the brain is often widespread and can be difficult to detect. Diffused injuries can cause insufficient blood supply to the brain following head trauma, intracranial pressure due to swelling, or vascular injury which can be fatal. Localized damage occurs as well when the brain collides with the skull, namely the brain stem (vital to attention, arousal, and consciousness), frontal and temporal lobes (the emotional control and memory skills centers). Localized damage includes bruising of the brain or bleeding (hemorrhaging), which can result in skull fracture. It is common for injuries to be both focal (localized) as well as diffuse (widespread) as the result of a single event.

Recovery and Treatment

Recovery from brain injury varies by individual and degree of damage. Currently, little can be done to reverse the initial damage, immediate medical treatment though is essential for stabilizing, preventing further damage and physical/mental rehabilitation. Often severely TBI patients will require surgery (acute treatment) to remove or repair ruptured blood vessels (hematomas) and bruised brain tissue (contusions), as well as any other complications due to brain trauma. For many TBI sufferers, there is medication and alternative medicines which can mitigate symptoms such as headaches, chronic pain, behavioral problems, depression, seizures and chronic pain.

Related Links:
Army Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Task Force Report
Deployment Health Clinical Center TBI Overview
Glossary of TBI-related terms
TBI Resources

Featured PTSD News
TBI: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment
A roadside explosion throws a Soldier against the side of his vehicle, with force that shakes his brain inside his skull. Another Soldier is in a traffic accident on the way to work, her head thrown forward into the windshield. A family member takes a hard fall during a sports game, hitting his head on the ground. Different situations, but often the same result - a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI), better known as a concussion.

Mild Traumatic Brain Injury
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