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What is Traumatic Brain Injury?

Traumatic brain injury victims and their families face many challenges, not the least of which is understanding what traumatic brain injury is. Basic understanding is crucial to appropriately treating and coping with traumatic brain injury and to recover from its often devastating consequences.

Traumatic brain injury is sudden, non-congenital (not present at birth) physical damage to the brain by an external force that disrupts or alters normal brain function. A traumatic brain injury is usually the result of a sudden blow to the head, which causes the brain to violently collide with the inside of the skull. In other instances, an object, such as a bullet, may penetrate brain tissue and cause traumatic brain injury. Any of these events destroy nerve cells and fibers, which damages and disrupts normal brain function.

Traumatic brain injury is often confused with acquired brain injury. Events such as strokes, aneurisms, drug overdoses, and brain tumors cause acquired brain injury. Though acquired brain injury and traumatic brain injury consequences and disabilities are similar, traumatic brain injury has distinctive symptoms, treatments, and recovery strategies.

Traumatic brain injuries are very common. In fact, approximately 1.5 million to 2 million Americans each year suffer traumatic brain injuries of varying degrees. Traumatic brain injuries are mild, moderate, or severe, and each degree of brain injury has its own unique symptoms and diagnoses.

What is Mild (Concussion) Traumatic Brain Injury & Concussion?

Mild traumatic brain injury is most often known as a concussion. Mild traumatic brain injury can occur when the head is heavily struck or when the head is violently shaken back and forth. People with mild traumatic brain injury can have a normal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or electroencephalogram (EEG) neurological test. As these test results are often "normal" and mild brain injury victims often do not show urgent medical symptoms, mild brain injury is underreported and undertreated. If the brain swells from injury, dangerous intracranial pressure can seriously damage the brain or even kill. Thus, even mild traumatic brain injury victims should seek immediate medical attention to avoid serious repercussions.

What is Moderate & Severe Traumatic Brain Injury?

More serious than mild traumatic brain injury, a moderate to severe traumatic brain injury requires immediate medical attention. An MRI, EEG, and other tests can identify the severity of the brain injury and the extent of brain damage. Events that can cause mild traumatic brain injury can also cause moderate to severe traumatic brain injury. However, moderate to severe traumatic brain injury symptoms are more critical, death rates are higher, and more extensive medical care is required.

Though the severity of traumatic brain injury varies, mild, moderate, and severe brain injuries rob victims of many important neurological functions, physical mobility, and life. Please read on to learn more about traumatic brain injury symptoms and how brain damage affects different parts of the human brain, please read other articles on this site.

[Last revision: July 2009]

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