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Traumatic Brain Injury: Types & Recovery Times

A traumatic brain injury, or TBI, is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the function of the brain. Brain injury is unpredictable in its consequences. It may affect who we are, the way we think, act and feel—it can change everything about us in a matter of seconds.

Each year, 1.4 million people in the U.S. sustain a TBI. Of those, 50,000 die, 235,000 are hospitalized, and 1.1 million are treated and released from an emergency room. The most common causes of TBI are falls, car accidents, being hit by or against something, and assaults.

When the brain is injured, the functions of the neurons, nerve tracts or sections of the brain can be affected. As a result, they may lose ability or have difficulty carrying the messages that tell the brain what to do. Brain injury can also alter the complex internal functions of the body, such as regulating body temperature, blood pressure and bowel and bladder control. These changes can be temporary or permanent.

Types of TBI

The terms "mild brain injury," "moderate brain injury" and "severe brain injury" describe the level of initial injury in relation to severity of neurological damage to the brain.

A mild traumatic brain injury is diagnosed only when there are noticeable changes in a person's mental status at the time of injury, such as if the person is dazed, confused, or loses consciousness. A concussion is when a change in mental status indicates that the person's brain functioning has been altered. The symptoms of mild traumatic brain injury include headache, fatigue, sleep disturbance, irritability, sensitivity to noise or light balance problems, decreased concentration and attention span, decreased speed of thinking, memory problems, nausea, depression, anxiety, and emotional mood swings.

Moderate traumatic brain injury occurs when there is a loss of consciousness that lasts from a few minutes to a few hours, confusion that lasts from days to weeks, and physical, cognitive and/or behavioral impairments that last for months or are permanent. Through treatment, those with moderate traumatic brain injury generally can learn to compensate for their deficits.

Severe brain injury occurs when a prolonged unconscious state or coma lasts days, weeks, or months.

Research has proven that all brain damage does not occur at the moment of impact but rather evolves over the ensuing hours and days after the initial injury due to brain swelling.

Recovering from Traumatic Brain Injury

There is no cure for a brain injury. Recovery relies on the brain's plasticity—the ability for other areas of the brain to take over the functions of the damaged areas. Progress requires hard work from the patient and a rehabilitation team to help strengthen remaining abilities.

With treatment advances, doctors have been able to increase survival rates for brain injury victims. New drugs and procedures, which have to be employed quickly after the injury, can also help limit problems due to brain swelling.

Still, the costs—both personal and societal—of TBI continue to be high. In 1995, direct medical costs and indirect costs, such as loss of productivity, were approximately $56.3 billion. According to the CDC, at least 5.3 million Americans need life-long help as the result of a TBI.

If you or a loved one has suffered a brain injury in a preventable accident, you have rights. Contact Morici, Longo & Associates to discuss your case with a Chicago brain injury lawyer.