Brain injuries are more common than you probably think.
Because of underreporting and co-occurring injuries. the number of brain injuries is difficult to pinpoint exactly. However, even then, it’s much larger than most people would expect. According to the CDC (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), there are approximately 1.5 million people in the U.S. who suffer from a traumatic brain injury each year. Of those, 50,000 people die from TBI each year and 85,000 will suffer long-term disabilities.
Brain injuries are classified depending on how they originate. An acquired brain injury (ABI) includes any brain injury acquired after birth. A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a type of ABI which involves an insult to the brain by an external force. An ABI can result from a number of conditions not considered external, such as tumors, toxins, degenerative diseases, strokes, or oxygen deprivation.
Picture of a Traumatic Brain Injury
A TBI is usually accompanied by a medical crisis, such as a blow to the head, violent shaking of the head, extreme force from a whiplash-type injury, or a violent wound. A TBI can be as obvious as a head injury sustained in a car accident or be as innocuous as knocking your head on a table.
The severity of a TBI can range from mild, involving a brief change in mental state or consciousness, to severe, which may include an extended period of unconsciousness or significant memory loss or cognitive impairment. A TBI is unlike any other bodily injury because when the immediate medical emergency is resolved, a brain injury is far from over. It’s just beginning.
[tweet “A TBI is unlike any other injury because when the medical emergency is over, a brain injury is far from over. It’s just beginning.]
Unlike a broken leg or heart blockage which involves one specific part of the body, a brain injury can affect multiple body systems and alter the person’s personality, intelligence, and mental abilities as well as physical capabilities and senses. Think about it, your brain is literally involved in every single thing your body does.
When a TBI happens, one minute the person’s life is ho-hum normal and in the next instance, their life can be abruptly and forever changed. No two brain injuries are alike and no two paths to recovery are the same. Having sustained a traumatic brain injury can increase a person’s risk for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, epilepsy, and psychiatric brain disorders.
A Concussion Is A Brain Injury
A concussion is called a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI). Some mTBIs thankfully are minor requiring little recovery time. However, for some, there is nothing mild about it. The term is misleading as it implies a problem of short-term duration with limited lingering consequences. Concussion recovery times can vary greatly. Most people who sustain a concussion or mild TBI are back to normal within three months. But others endure long-term memory, cognition, and mental processing challenges.
Most people are surprised to learn that it doesn’t necessarily take much to get a concussion, and you don’t have to lose consciousness. As a matter of fact, you don’t even have to hit your head. Any impact that gives the brain inside the skull a good shake, such as a blow to the chest, can cause a concussion. A concussion is diagnosed by symptoms, which can include headaches, nausea, dizziness, inability to remember, irritability, insomnia or sensitivity to light or noise.
NFL players have helped us to better understand the serious long-term consequences of concussions. One study examined the brains of deceased former NFL football players and found that 110 out of 111 brains had brain damage which has come to be known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). CTE is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma (often athletes).
Leading Causes of Brain Injury
The primary causes of brain injuries vary with age. For example, falls are the leading cause of brain injury among the elderly and being struck by or against an object is most prevalent in the 15-24 age group. The age groups at the highest risk of a traumatic brain injury are toddlers between the ages of 0 and 4 and teens from 15-19. For military personnel, blasts are the leading cause of TBI, and certain military duties — such as paratrooper — increase the risk of sustaining a TBI.
We’ve all heard about football causing brain injury but surprisingly many sports do also. While sports injuries rarely result in fatalities, traumatic brain injury is the leading cause of death from a sports-related injury. Sports and recreational activities most likely to result in a traumatic brain injury are in order:
- Baseball and Softball
- Water Sports (Diving, Scuba Diving, Surfing, Swimming, Water Polo, Water Skiing, Water Tubing)
- Powered Recreational Vehicles (ATVs, Dune Buggies, Go-Carts, Minibikes, Off-road
- Fitness/Exercise/Health Club
- Winter Sports (Skiing, Sledding, Snowboarding, Snowmobiling)
- Horseback Riding
- Other Ball Sports and Balls, Unspecified
- Roller and Inline Skating
Symptoms of a Brain Injury
You would think that if you had a brain injury you would know it, right?
You may not realize that the physical or mental conditions you are experiencing are indicative of a brain injury. Symptoms of a brain injury can show up immediately, or may not present until days, weeks, or even longer. If you’ve had a fall, sports injury, auto accident, it’s important that you seek medical attention if you have any of the following symptoms:
- excessive sleepiness,
- difficulty speaking,
- trouble walking, vomiting,
- extremity weakness or numbness,
- changes in behavior,
- difficulty concentrating or
- dilated pupils.
My Brain Injury and Recovery
In 2007, I tried to commit suicide by swallowing an assortment of pills, mostly brain drugs, and although I survived, my brain was stuck in a drugged stupor. (Read the full story here.) When I woke up from the coma I’d been in for the past week, I was barely there.
I couldn’t focus on anything for more than a few seconds, and my brain couldn’t make sense of what it was seeing before it. To my surprise, garbled noises and mutilated words spewed from my mouth when I spoke. What did come out was disturbingly slow and flat. The sluggishness of my speech was an indication of how quickly my brain was working – not very fast.
Over the year after the attempt, I naturally recovered enough to resume living independently but was still mentally impaired with symptoms of the brain injury. I had short-term memory problems, an inability to focus, aphasia, poor social skills, no math aptitude, and little impulse control.
By then, I’d healed enough emotionally to decide that I did want to live, and I promised myself, “I AM NOT living like this!” So, I started learning everything I could about rebuilding my brain and tried anything that might help me. For years, through exercise, mindfulness, meditation, other tools, and neuroplasticity, I continued my daily dedication to my rehabilitation, gained momentum, and improved. (You can read about what I did to recover here.)
The more I learned, the better I got, and the better I got, the more I learned. It worked, and I recovered fully. 🙂Share this article!
This IS important information to know. I bet most of us have no idea how widespread traumatic brain injury actually is and how it can occur from what may appear likely relatively mild incidents. Thank you for this, Debbie.
Thanks, Sandra. Information is power! 🙂
Good information. All of it is good to know!
I’d like to add a couple of symptoms I experienced after an ATV accident. The first sign should have been obvious to everyone around me because they all know about my nasty smoking habit.
A stressful event would normally trigger a nicotine craving. When asked if I needed a cigarette before moving on, my answer was a nonchalant “No. I’m good.” So when you mention changes in behavior it may be something really subtle. Also, the rest of the day and night seemed incredibly surreal by that night it felt downright ethereal. I couldn’t understand why no one else remembered it that way. Later on, when we printed out the vacation pictures there is one that was taken of me and my daughter. We have always laughed at how “stoned” I look in that photo. I promise you I wasn’t stoned, merely concussed. We didn’t even stop by the E.R. because in Montana if it isn’t bleeding, you are fine!
Thanks for the additional info, Adrienne. Glad you figured it out and got help! 🙂
Reading this i know how blessed i am that after being knocked down by a car when i was 16 , in a coma for a week, that as my mother used to say you don’t know how lucky you are to be alive. massive concussion and surgery and rarely now do i ever get a headache- i just can’t dive xx
That is miraculous! Glad to hear it. 🙂
Wow Debbie…definitely something we need to know more about. Thanks for sharing this valuable information.
You are most welcome, Elle.
This was a very powerful read. I had a head injury that changed the course of my life. I fell off a 5 foot brick wall while parkouring and slipped and landed head first on cement. I had the wind knocked out of me and my body was in shock. Luckily I got up 30 seconds later able to drive to the emergency room. Doctors said I was fine but that was far from the truth. For the next year I would suffer from everything that you stated and after a year and a half I had enough. I went to the gym and started working out and 4 years later I am a personal trainer helping other people get back on their feet. I still feel the symptoms from time to time and it gets frustrating so its good to know I am not alone. Thank you for sharing!! I look forward to read more!
Thank you for sharing your experience, Brandon. Unfortunately, even medical professionals often miss the signs of a brain injury. I’m glad you figured it out and are now helping others. Something good usually comes out of hardship. Sure did in my case! 🙂
Thank you Debbie for creating awareness and helping those of us with TBI. This has been extremely helpful. I am 4 months into recovery from being thrown from a motorcycle onto my skull. I am new to TBi and never imagined anything like this could possibly happen. It has been an uphill battle these past 4 months from the Pain steaming from the injury to the cognitive deficits as well as trying to find the proper specialists to assist in my recovery. It’s my worst nightmare come true. You would be shocked to know that many of the doctors and specialists as well as my insurance are still unaware of the severity of this type of injury and treatments that are needed for me to heal properly. It’s as if to them….. i have a broken arm not a brain Injury. I am determined to move forward and get back to me as much as I possibly can. Thank you for sharing and I look forward to reading and learning from your posts. Sincerely appreciate your page! Jules
Julie, sadly I’m not shocked at all. In recovering from my brain injury, I received the most helpful information from other brain injury survivors, not the medical community. Medical professionals are a resource, but they are only one part of the community. You have to search out and try things to see if they have value to you. Some may. Some may not – even if they helped other brain injured persons. Every brain injury is unique. I found neurofeedback and hyperbaric oxygen amazingly healing. Acupuncture, exercise, meditation, sleep, diet are all incredibly healing too. (You can find info about all on my site.) You have to support and nurture your brain to promote healing. Recovering from a brain injury takes years. Other than right after – I did the most healing in my third year. You are still very freshly injured. Things will improve. Keep trying to help your brain – not always with medical professionals either, the things I mentioned earlier: sleep, exercise, diet, meditation, hydration – and it will improve. You will probably not get back to exactly the way you were – some things will be worse and some better even – but it will be OK. This is for right now, not forever. All the best to you. PS: I offer email or video coaching if you are interested. https://www.thebestbrainpossible.com/coaching/
Reading about your story has given me hope that my brain can recover, that my personality and lost of direction of what to do with my life doesn’t have to last. I was diagnoised in college with Narcolepsy and Catatplexy in 2012, my second year of college, so of course I was told any injuries to the head could be catastrophic. I had my first concussion in April of 2013, I was doing a friends hair and in reaching for a dropped comb or another hair tool, bent down to retrieve it and hit my head under the counter top that the item fell under. That was mild, experienced some nausea and was dazed when I went to the ER to get checked out, but after a day of rest I was fine. Then my second concussion was in October of 2013, unfortunately I did loose consciousness when it occurred. I slipped in the shower due to a college roomate leaving the shower slippery from soap residue. I was unconscious for more than an hour or so since I ended up missing the class lecture I was trying to get ready for. ER visit for sure, released with pain medication for the following week as needed. Concussion number three, December of 2014 which was a freak accident from being thrown to the mat by my neck with no head gear in my college self-defense class that was based on Jujitsu. I was dazed for a few days and as result of the injury it made my sleep disorder be more symptomatic when it came to the frequency of Cataplexy even under the medication that was to control it. Thankfully that didn’t last for more than 1-2 weeks. The concussion that has been the most catastrophic was my most recent one in March of 2017. My autographed birthday bowling pin rocked off and fell from a high bookshelf in my bedroom and hit me acrossed the forehead causing for a deep wound between my eyebrows. I had to hold my face/head together due to how much blood was flowing and how much my head was spinning. I went unconcussion while my parents and I awaited for the ambulance to take me to the hospital. In brief, I was released from the ER a day later, after they glued the gash closed. I was unable to see out of the eye the bowling pin went across ( my left eye) due to swelling which subsided within a week or so. I had to learn how to walk again, write again as well as my motor skills were slower for about two weeks. Speeding up to now, 2018, this year has been like an out of body experience. Depression kicked in which kepted me in pjs, not really doing anything during the summer where usually I would be working. My will to interact with friends or alot of people in one setting I’ve put off. My personality had greatly been effected. My motivation and even analytic skills have been effected. Trying to finish my final credits after taking 2 years off college has become very difficult since things aren’t clinking as before. It takes longer for me to get work done and collect my thoughts.
All of this to say, finding your book has brought in a light into my dark tunnel that I’m working to get through. That their is hope for me yet since I will be only 26 come Nov. 13, 2018 has brought some relief even now. I know this is just a start to help with really recovering, but the fact that it can be done gives me so much hope, more than you’ll ever know. So thank you for writing this book. I look forward to reading about how I too can beat the depression and anxiety that has impacted my life. Thank you, Thank you!
Every brain and brain injury is different. But you most definitely can encourage and support brain healing with your lifestyle habits, therapies, and by learning about and directing neuroplasticity. I would encourage you to read Norman Doidge’s book, The Brain That Changes Itself and to find a neurofeedback provider near you and begin therapy. Neurofeedback literally retrains the brain to optimal functioning and was crucial to my healing. There is info about it on my website and a link to a website where you can enter your zip code to locate a practitioner: https://www.thebestbrainpossible.com/a-mood-ring-for-the-mind-2/
Your brain can improve! I think you’ll find it will help anxiety and depression too. (So, will meditation, sleep, exercise…a lot of things)
Thank you Debbie, I will definitely take advantage of looking into finding a specialist from the resource you suggested as well as the book mentioned.
Good, Gretchen. Just keep going, exploring, and trying new things. You will find several that work for you. I have no doubt. Some will. Some won’t. Don’t get discouraged — just move on to the next one. You brain and life CAN improve. It’s up to you. You can do it. 🙂