Symptoms and treatment of brain injury
The Brain & Injury Law team has gathered the following information to help you better understand the symptoms and treatment of brain injury.
Symptoms of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
Brain injury is often called the “invisible injury.” The signs and symptoms of a concussion (also known as mild traumatic brain injury) or even moderate traumatic brain injury can be subtle and notoriously difficult to diagnose and treat. Symptoms may not appear until days or weeks after the injury and may even go unrecognized. Common signs and symptoms include:
- Fatigue (feeling tired, unusual napping, lack of energy)
- Impaired memory (usually short-term)
- Cognitive impairments (slowness in thinking, speaking, acting)
- Impaired balance (often presenting as dizziness or vertigo)
- Blurred vision or double vision (difficulty reading or moving with eye changes)
- Inability to concentrate (especially in noisy or complex environments)
- Impaired mood (depression, tearfulness, anger, sadness)
- Confusion (lack of focus, feeling like in a fog)
- Impaired decision-making abilities (loss of good judgment)
- Loss of initiation
- Mood changes (feeling sad or angry for no reason, irritability)
- Changes in sleep pattern (sleeping more or trouble sleeping)
- Sensitivity to light or sound
- Loss of sense of smell or taste
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
Pediatric Brain Injuries
Children with a brain injury can have the same symptoms as adults, but it is often harder for them to communicate how they feel. Call your child’s doctor immediately if they show any of these symptoms after a blow to the head:
- Loss of consciousness
- Tiredness or listlessness
- Irritability or crankiness (will not stop crying or cannot be consoled)
- Changes in eating (will not eat or nurse)
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Changes in the way the child plays
- Changes in performance at school
- Lack of interest in favourite toys or activities
- Loss of new skills, such as toilet training
- Loss of balance or unsteady walking
Seek medical attention immediately in the event of a possible brain injury. Your doctor can refer you to a neurologist, neuropsychologist, neurosurgeon, or specialist in rehabilitation (such as a speech pathologist). Getting help soon after the injury may speed recovery.
Emergency Room & Hospital Care for Brain Injuries
In most cases, people with traumatic brain injuries are initially brought to the hospital emergency room, where their condition is diagnosed. This involves looking for signs of brain injury, either through scanning devices like computer assisted tomography (CAT scans), magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs), X-rays, or through screening tools that measure speech, movement, memory, and thought. The people best qualified to diagnose a brain injury are emergency room doctors, neurologists, and neuropsychologists.
In life or death situations, people are taken to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), where their condition can be stabilized. Surgical care may be required. As the acute injury improves, the long-term effects of the brain injury begin to emerge. CT scans and EEGs provide information on the brain damage, but it may take time to see the full extent of the injury’s effect on the patient’s cognitive and physical abilities.
Some TBI patients need hospitalization that does not require intensive care (such as recovery from surgery). This is referred to as medical stabilization. Depending on the extent of the injuries, medical stabilization can last several days to several months. After patients are transferred from the emergency room or ICU, they will receive medical treatment and rehabilitation services such as physical therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy.
Once stabilized, the brain injury survivor may be transferred to a neuro-intensive care ward, neurological ward or to an acute care ward for further care. At this point the health care team expands and may include new rehabilitation specialists depending on the needs of the patient.
Brain Injury Rehabilitation
After a serious brain injury, people often need rehabilitation to help them re-learn functions like walking, talking and basic care. Brain injury rehabilitation treatments are specialized services that may be offered as a hospital program or on an outpatient basis. The specific type of rehabilitation depends on the unique needs of the brain injury survivor and their specific challenges.
Brain injury rehabilitation services may include:
Traditional brain injury treatment
- Cognitive therapy
- Speech/language therapy
- Physical therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Neurobehavioral therapy
- Vocational rehabilitation
- Neuropsychological testing
- Vestibular physiotherapy
- Ophthalmological therapies
- Otolaryngology (ENT) assessment and therapy
Alternative brain injury treatment
- Craniosacral therapy
- Hyperbaric oxygen treatment
- Biofield therapies
Medical professionals that specialize in brain injury rehabilitation include:
- Behavioural psychologists
- Speech/language pathologists
- Physical therapists
- Recreational therapists
- Occupational therapists
- Vestibular therapists
- Educational consultants
- Vocational consultants
The Brain Injury Rehabilitation Process
As people recover from a brain injury, they may undergo a variety of tests to find out what parts of the brain have been affected, often by a neuropsychologist or a clinical evaluator. If rehabilitation is needed, a hospital social worker or case manager will usually help determine which types of treatment are needed.
The length of rehabilitation varies according to the person and severity of their injury. Some people may only need a few weeks or months, while others require life-long rehabilitation.
Rehabilitation should begin as early as possible after a brain injury. With specialized rehabilitation, anyone with a brain injury can continue to make improvements in his or her life, even many years after the injury.
For more information on symptoms and treatment for brain injury visit brainline.org.