Medical Issues: The Symptoms of Traumatic Brain Injury – What to Look For

  • April 21, 2010
  • Blog

For decades, the brain injury attorneys at the law firm of Allen & Allen have worked with clients who have suffered brain injuries caused by the negligence of others. Often these injuries are a result of falls, as a result of product defects, from car, motorcycle, or truck accidents, or from a myriad of other circumstances. Each year, approximately 1.5 million Americans suffer a traumatic brain injury (TBI) of some degree. 1 Because many of our clients have sustained this type of injury, our attorneys are accustomed to seeing the many and varied causes and manifestations of traumatic brain injury.

Of course, we are not physicians, and we do not diagnose brain injuries. However, we try to remain alert to the possibility that a client may have sustained an unrecognized brain injury in addition to more obvious injuries like a broken leg, lacerated spleen, or shoulder and neck strain. Surprisingly, these injuries can be difficult to diagnose.

Symptoms of traumatic brain injury can range from subtle, easy to overlook, effects to the more obvious, impossible to ignore, signs. Patients — and even health care providers 2 — often fail to recognize the more subtle symptoms of a mild brain injury; often they assume these symptoms are either exaggerated or related to other medical conditions. Sometimes even family members may notice a change in a relative’s behavior or listen to his description of seemingly random complaints, but conclude these signs are associated with problems at work or just “getting older”.

The truth is that traumatic brain injuries may be revealed through a wide variety of physical and psychological symptoms. 3Sometimes it takes modern technology, in the form of a medical device like a MRI or a CT scan, to pinpoint or document such an injury. However, the most important thing for the injured person and his family to do is pay attention to all symptoms and act immediately to seek medical help when they suggest a possible brain injury.

Typical signs and symptoms of mild traumatic brain injuries (like a concussion) may include some of the following:

  • Loss of consciousness, usually for a brief period at the time of injury
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness or loss of balance
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Memory problems
  • Amnesia for events occurring just before or after an injury
  • Changes in mood or behavior
  • Confusion
  • Blurred vision, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), or a bad taste in the mouth

It’s easier to recognize and diagnose persons who have suffered moderate to severe traumatic brain injuries because many are hospitalized immediately after an injury and undergo extensive testing. Moreover, their symptoms are likely to be more obvious; they may include:

  • Seizures or convulsions
  • Continued vomiting or nausea.
  • Persistent headaches
  • Combativeness and/or agitation
  • Loss of coordination
  • Slurring of speech
  • Dilation of one or both pupils of the eye
  • Profound confusion
  • Weakness or numbness in arms or legs
  • An inability to awaken from sleep

Always keep in mind that some signs of serious traumatic brain injury come on gradually, weeks or months after an initial injury. For example, an elderly person may fall and hit his head, but the signs and symptoms of a developing subdural hematoma may not become obvious for many weeks. When they do, the patient and/or his family must act quickly to get appropriate, potentially lifesaving medical care.

Children may be harder to diagnose because they are often too young to communicate effectively. For this reason, parents should look for changes in a child’s normal behavior such as:

  • Altered sleep patterns
  • Deteriorating academic performance at school
  • Loss of interest in favorite toys or activities
  • Listless behavior and unusual crankiness
  • Refusal to eat

Even a mild brain injury can have adverse effects on a person’s daily activities, employment, and enjoyment of life. For this reason, the sooner a diagnosis is made and treatment begins, the sooner a brain injured person can move towards recovery. 4


1 –Thurman D, Alverson C, Dunn K, Guerrero J, Sniezek J. Traumatic brain injury in the United States: a public health perspective. Journal of Head Trauma and Rehabilitation 1999;14(6):602-15.

2 –To assist health care providers to diagnose these injuries, the Centers for Disease Control has prepared information on mild traumatic brain injuries; see “Heads Up: Facts for Physicians about Mild Traumatic Brain Injuries” at: http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/pub-res/tbi_toolkit/physicians/mtbi/mtbi.pdf.

3 –For more information, see the “Traumatic Brain Injury” information at the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/tbi/tbi.htm.

4 –For more information about diagnostic tools, see information at the Mayo Clinic’s website at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/traumatic-brain-injury/DS00552/DSECTION=tests-and-diagnosis.