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Understanding Mild vs. Severe Traumatic Brain Injuries

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 1.7 million people sustain traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) every year. About 275,000 of these injuries result in hospitalizations and another 52,000 injuries are fatal. Based on these statistics, there’s no doubt that TBIs are among the most devastating injuries that an individual can sustain.

Every traumatic brain injury is serious, but some are more serious than others. In fact, TBIs are classified as mild, moderate, or severe depending on the location and extent of the brain damage.  With that said, much like a heart attack is a serious medical event regardless of severity, a brain injury is much the same — whether mild or severe — an extremely serious medical event.

What’s the difference between a mild and severe injury? Here’s what you need to know:

How TBIs Occur

TBIs can either be open or closed injuries. An open TBI injury occurs when a foreign object, such as a bullet, penetrates the skull and damages the brain. However, the skull remains intact during a closed injury. This type of injury can be caused by a blow to the head, such as when a person falls and hits their head on the ground. A closed injury can also be caused by a sudden jerking motion that causes the brain to quickly move back and forth, which often occurs in car accidents.

Severe TBIs can be either open or closed, however mild TBIs are almost always closed injuries, such as concussions. Some of the leading causes of mild and severe injuries are car accidents, slip and falls, assaults, and sports-related incidents.

Loss of Consciousness After Mild and Severe TBIs

Mild TBIs may or may not cause a loss of consciousness. If the victim does lose consciousness, it will only be for a few seconds or minutes. Mild TBI victims can also suffer from brief amnesia, however they should be able to remember what happened within one hour.

Severe TBI victims will always lose consciousness. The injury is not classified as a severe TBI unless the victim loses consciousness for more than 24 hours. Severe TBI victims can also suffer from amnesia that could last from 24 hours to the rest of their lives, depending on the location of the brain damage.

Other Symptoms of Mild and Severe TBIs

There are many other symptoms of mild and severe TBIs besides temporary amnesia and loss of consciousness. Mild TBIs can lead to confusion, difficulty concentrating, depression, irritability, headaches, dizziness, nausea, and balance problems.

People with severe TBIs can suffer from decreased speed of processing, impulsiveness, decreased executive function, lack of interaction skills, and depression. Severe TBI victims can also experience a number of different physical problems as a result of their injury. Some of these symptoms include blurred vision, chronic pain, paralysis, difficulty speaking, tinnitus, reduced sense of smell or taste, involuntary eye movements, and loss of bowel and bladder control.

Both mild and severe TBI victims suffer a great deal, but severe TBIs cause the worst physical, emotional, and mental symptoms.

Diagnosing Mild and Severe TBIs

Severe and mild TBIs are diagnosed in different ways. If someone sustains a mild TBI, they may visit a doctor and complain of headaches, nausea, and dizziness. The doctor can either diagnose the patient with a mild TBI based on their symptoms alone or the doctor can ask the patient to perform certain coordination and reflex tests. Mild TBIs do not cause structural damage to the brain, which means the injury will not appear on MRI or CT scans. Because of this, the doctor relies on other tests to confirm the diagnosis.

Severe TBIs cause structural damage to the brain, so doctors will be able to spot this type of injury on a CT or MRI scan. Doctors should be able to tell based on the victim’s symptoms alone, such as the loss of consciousness or fractured skull, that it is a severe TBI. But, the imaging tests are often needed to determine the extent of the damage.

Recovery From Mild and Severe TBIs

The best way to recover from a mild TBI is to rest. This means limiting physical activities and avoiding any strenuous mental exercises or emotional situations. Allowing the brain to rest should alleviate the symptoms of a mild TBI. Once all of the symptoms have disappeared, which should be after a month or so, the doctor will discuss how to return to normal activities.

The treatment for a severe TBI is far more complicated. Doctors will focus on stabilizing the severe TBI victim first, which involves maintaining their blood pressure, ensuring they have enough oxygen, and reducing swelling in the brain. Most severe TBI victims are put in an induced coma to limit further damage to the brain. Emergency surgical procedures may be needed, especially in cases where the brain is bleeding or the skull is fractured.

Sadly, some severe TBIs never regain consciousness. Victims that do regain consciousness will require months or even years of rehabilitation in order to relearn skills and adjust to their limitations. While some symptoms of a severe TBI can improve over time, the victim could suffer permanent emotional, mental, and physical changes as a result of their injury.

Are Mild TBIs Serious?

Severe TBIs are obviously far more serious than mild TBIs. But, that doesn’t mean that a mild TBI should be taken lightly. For example, everyone knows that a heart attack is a serious medical emergency. However, some heart attacks are fatal while others are not. Even if a heart attack is not fatal, the victim should still seek treatment as soon as possible and follow their doctor’s orders carefully. The same can be said for a mild TBI—even though it is not life threatening, it is still a devastating injury that should be taken seriously that could have long term consequences and can change a person’s life.

Have you sustained a mild or severe traumatic brain injury? If so, contact Trial Lawyers for Justice today to schedule a consultation regarding your case. Brain injuries can completely disrupt a victim’s life. While you adjust to these changes, let our personal injury attorneys fight for the compensation that you deserve.

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Nick Rowley founded Trial by Human, a nationwide legal education course to help trial lawyers improve their skills in the courtroom by "being human".