What are the effects of a traumatic brain injury?
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) can occur when something outside the body hits the head with significant force. Whether it is a head hitting the windshield during a car accident, an impact from a fall, head injuries received during sports or other recreational activities, or trauma from a nearby blast or explosion during military service, TBI can cause changes in someone’s ability to think, control emotions, walk, or speak, and can also affect sense of sight or hearing.
Traumatic brain injury can be mild to severe. Mild traumatic brain injury refers to brief changes in or loss of consciousness. Severe traumatic brain injury refers to longer periods of unconsciousness and memory loss around the event. While it may be easier to diagnose moderate to severe TBI, changes caused by any TBI could significantly affect many areas of a person’s life.
Traumatic brain injury can result in changes in someone’s physical functioning, thinking abilities, and behaviors. These effects sometimes cause other difficulties such as sleeping problems, depression, and anxiety.
Physical effects may include:
“I was having trouble seeing. Everything was blurry, the headaches were non-stop, I couldn’t get measurements and I was confused all the time. All of these were symptoms of a brain injury—we just didn’t know it yet.”
Cognitive effects may include:
Behavioral effects may include:
What are the mental health-related effects of TBI that I need to be aware of?
Traumatic brain injury symptoms can affect people in different ways and sometimes symptoms change as people recover. Some people may recognize TBI symptoms immediately, and others may write them off or minimize what they’re experiencing. Still others may find the symptoms don’t go away as fast as they expect.
Frequently, people recover from symptoms of mild TBI over time, and signs may become unnoticeable within a few weeks or months. However, if you experience any of the following for more than seven days following the injury, you may wish to reach out for support:
“I’d say that the biggest thing that I had to deal with was frustration. I didn’t know why I was forgetful all the time or always in a bad mood. I didn’t know that I had a traumatic brain injury.”
Some moderate to severe TBI symptoms last for a longer period of time and may be permanent. However, there are effective treatments and support for helping Veterans manage their symptoms and find a path to recovery.
If left untreated, the effects of TBI can affect the way you live your life, and the relationships you have with others. Ignoring your symptoms and trying to “tough it out” may make the symptoms worse.
Some people with TBI think about harming themselves. You might think others would be better off without you or you might feel there is no other way out of your problems. These thoughts need immediate attention. It’s important that you talk to someone right away if you have thoughts of death or suicide. If you are thinking about death or suicide, call the Veterans Crisis Line, at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1. You can also use the Veterans Crisis Line online chat, or send a text to the Veterans Crisis Line at 838255. Both services provide free, confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
What can I do about the effects of TBI?
Many Veterans receive effective treatment for TBI. During a TBI evaluation, you and your doctor will discuss what caused your injury. You may also talk about how to deal with the physical, cognitive, and behavioral symptoms and effects such as difficulty concentrating, headaches, and impacts on your daily life.
Your doctor may recommend counseling to help you learn ways to manage the effects of TBI. Because TBI is a brain injury, it can also affect the way that the brain functions and medications may be needed to help you cope with the effects.
What can I do to manage the effects of TBI?
Most doctors who treat head injuries agree that recovery is faster if you understand what is happening, get enough rest, and resume your responsibilities slowly but surely.
Do not push yourself too hard. The time you spend at work, with family and friends, and in other activities should be determined by your comfort level. Only gradually increase your activity level over time. Consider whether or not those activities make your symptoms worse.
“My doctor zeroed in on what exactly was affected and gave me the right medications to deal with my TBI. I started speaking more clearly and I became less frustrated and less angry.”
There are also steps you can take to help manage your TBI symptoms:
Get enough sleep
Write things down or use electronic reminders if you have trouble remembering
Establish a regular, daily routine
Check with someone you trust when making decisions
Avoid alcohol—it could slow down the healing process and make symptoms worse
Avoid caffeine, cold medications that treat nasal congestion, or other products that contain pseudoephedrine—they may increase the symptoms
Recognize triggers—keep a record to help identify situations that are more likely to worsen your symptoms
Take up a hobby or a recreational activity
Talk to others—to keep you from feeling isolated and to give friends and loved ones a chance to help you
Remember that symptoms are a normal part of the recovery, and they will get better
If your TBI symptoms are interfering with your life or are not improving, be sure to talk to your doctor. He or she may be able to suggest other steps that you can take based on what you are experiencing.
Take the next step – Make the connection.
Every day, Veterans who served in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard connect with proven resources and effective treatments for managing TBI symptoms. It can be difficult to handle the effects of TBI on your own, so talking to your family and friends can be a first step. You can also consider connecting with:
Your family doctor: Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who does
Your local VA Medical Center or Vet Center: VA specializes in the care and treatment of TBI in Veterans
An audiologist or ophthalmologist if you are experiencing problems hearing or seeing
Your closest VA Polytrauma Care Facility: Polytrauma Care Facilities are specially designed to treat all the different symptoms of TBI in Veterans
A mental health professional, such as a therapist
A spiritual or religious advisor
Explore these resources for more information about TBI in Veterans.
Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center
This website provides Veterans, Service members, and their families with TBI educational materials and information on care coordination and research.
Polytrauma/TBI System of Care
The VA Polytrauma System of Care provides comprehensive care and tailored rehabilitation for Veterans and returning Service members with TBI and other injuries to more than one physical region or organ system of the body.
Take an online symptom management assessment to evaluate how you are handling your TBI symptoms and hear from other Veterans and Service members dealing with TBI.
If you are a combat Veteran or possibly experienced head injury during your military service, bring your DD214 to your local Vet Center and speak with a counselor or therapist—many of whom are Veterans themselves—for free, without an appointment, and regardless of your enrollment status with VA.
Outreach Center for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury Support
The Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) has established an Outreach Center to provide TBI resources to Veterans and others. The Center can provide personalized information about symptoms and recommend resources in your area.
VA Medical Center Facility Locator
This website will allow you to search for VA programs located near you. If you are eligible to receive care through the Veterans Health Administration, you can enroll in one of VA’s TBI treatment programs.