What are the signs and symptoms of traumatic brain injury (TBI)?

Pam Hays
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Specialist

Changed sleep patterns are a symptom of traumatic brain injury. If a veteran was within 55 yards of a blast, there is a greater possiblity that they may have experienced a TBI, even if not diagnosed at the time of the explosion. If other symptoms of TBI are present such as memory problems, lack of organizational skills, speech or hearing changes, unexplained fatigue, or feeling like they are just not themselves, testing for a TBI should be done.

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) can cause confusion, amnesia and possibly loss of consciousness. Signs and symptoms can start right away or be delayed. Early on, the patient may experience headache, confusion, nausea and vomiting. Later on, mood changes, sensitivity to light and noise and sleep disturbances may be experienced. After a head injury, look for signs such as slurred speech, unawareness of time (ask date), stumbling, slowness to answer, or repeating the same questions multiple times. With more severe TBIs, patients may have seizures, which may start immediately or up to a week later. Worsening symptoms, especially after a period of feeling well, can be a sign of ongoing bleeding.
Administration Specialist

Brain injury is a life-changing event that can affect every area of a person's life. The signs and symptoms of a traumatic brain injury can be subtle. The following include some common symptoms of a TBI:

  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Lack of energy and motivation; fatigue
  • Headaches, light-headedness, loss of balance, and dizziness
  • Increased sensitivity to light and sound
  • Mood changes (anger, sadness)
  • Slowness in speaking, thinking, and/or reading
  • Loss of sense of taste or smell
  • Change in sleep patterns

The symptoms of a traumatic brain injury (TBI) can be mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the extent of the damage to the brain. Some symptoms are evident immediately while others do not surface until several days or weeks after the injury. A person with a mild TBI may remain conscious or experience a loss of consciousness for a few seconds or minutes. The person may also feel dazed or not like oneself for several days or weeks after the initial injury. Other symptoms of mild TBI 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, attention, or thinking.

A person with a moderate or severe TBI may show these same symptoms but also have a headache that gets worse or does not go away, repeated vomiting or nausea, convulsions or seizures, inability to awaken from sleep, dilation of one or both pupils of the eyes, slurred speech, weakness or numbness in the extremities, loss of coordination, and/or increased confusion, restlessness, or agitation. Small children with moderate to severe TBI may show some of these signs as well as signs specific to young children, such as persistent crying, inability to be consoled, and/or refusal to nurse or eat. Anyone with signs of moderate or severe TBI should receive medical attention as soon as possible.

This Answer is based on source information from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.