Traumatic Brain Injury: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment


Doctors classify Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) into three different categories based on the severity of the injury.

  1. Mild TBI
  2. Moderate TBI
  3. Severe TBI

Each of the three forms of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) display different symptoms to be aware of.

Mild TBI

Otherwise known as a concussion, mild TBI is more difficult to diagnose both in civilian life and on the military battlefield.

With mild TBI patients, full recovery can be within minutes to hours; a small percentage have symptoms that may persist months or years.

Symptoms of mild TBI include headache, dizziness, nausea/vomiting, trouble concentrating, memory problems, irritability.

Moderate TBI

This includes a population of patients that falls between the mild and severe spectrum. Moderate TBI patients have the most variability in their symptoms.

There is usually loss of consciousness, from an hour to a day; there can be confusion for days to weeks; and mental or physical deficits that can last months or be permanent.

Severe TBI

This injury usually results from a significant closed head injury, as in an automobile accident or most open or penetrating injuries, where there may be considerable residual deficits of brain function.

Depending on the injury, a severe TBI could impact speech, sensory, vision and cognitive deficits including difficulties with attention, memory, concentration, and impulsiveness.

Initial Diagnosis and Treatment of TBI

DOD has implemented an exposure screening program for all service members returning from theater. Exposures to events that carry a risk of TBI will trigger further evaluation by the screening health care provider and possibly yield a referral to a specialist. This will complement the VA screening program.

DoD and VA share medical data to ensure that care providers have all the information they need to diagnose and treat a TBI.

The initial focus of treating a TBI is to stabilize the injured person in order to minimize secondary complications. As a patient enters a care facility, initial medical treatment goals include ensuring proper oxygen and blood flow to the brain and body, stabilizing blood pressure, and treating any problems or conditions affecting other parts of the body (besides the brain) that have arisen because of the injury. After individuals with TBI have been stabilized, the treatment plan generally involves rehabilitation efforts to teach patients how to cope with their specific injury-related symptoms.

Rehabilitation of TBI Patients

Depending on the severity of the TBI, a rehabilitation team may consist of:

  • Physical Therapists - who help patients regain their coordination, flexibility, and range of motion, and to address pain and stiffness
  • Occupational Therapists - who help patients relearn how to perform the simple activities of daily living
  • Neuropsychologists - whose testing of patients' functional abilities helps the health care team identify specific areas of cognitive functioning that require specific rehabilitative efforts, and then measure progress toward addressing deficits
  • Psychiatrists - who help patients to better manage their cognitive, emotional and behavioral symptoms

Brain injury rehabilitation assists in reaching maximum levels of independence. Care strategies are based on the severity of brain injury. The more severe brain injuries may require a variety of approaches to care. Additional factors in dealing with TBI include patient care coordination; provider, patient and family education; and emerging medical technologies that enhance TBI care.

Each brain injury and its recovery is different, and the brain has a remarkable way to adjust after injury. It is critical to know the symptoms and to seek treatment before there is a chance for additional, more serious complications to occur.

For more information about TBI, please visit Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center.

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