Traumatic brain injury

Around one million people visit A&E each year following a head injury. While the majority of these people will experience no lasting effects, many others will be left with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that can have devastating and lifelong effects.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is an injury to the brain caused by a trauma to the head (head injury). There are many possible causes, including road traffic accidents, assaults, falls and accidents at home or at work.

A brief period of unconsciousness, or just feeling sick and dizzy, may result from a person banging their head getting into the car, walking into the top of a low door way, or slipping over in the street. It is estimated that 75-80% of all head injuries fall into this category.

A moderate head injury is defined as loss of consciousness for between 15 minutes and six hours, or a period of post-traumatic amnesia of up to 24 hours. The patient can be kept in hospital overnight for observation, and then discharged if there are no further obvious medical injuries. Patients with moderate head injury are likely to suffer from a number of residual symptoms.

Severe head injury is usually defined as being a condition where the patient has been in an unconscious state for six hours or more, or a post-traumatic amnesia of 24 hours or more. These patients are likely to be hospitalised and receive rehabilitation once the acute phase has passed. Depending on the length of time in coma, these patients tend to have more serious physical deficits.

Effects and recovery

The effects of a traumatic brain injury on an individual depends on a number of factors such as the type, location and severity of injury. Symptoms can be wide-ranging, from physical effects such as balance problems, headaches and dizziness to cognitive, emotional and behavioural effects such as memory problems and anger.  

Where the effects of brain injury persist or cause problems, a person may be referred to rehabilitation services. Rehabilitation aims to help the brain learn alternative ways of working in order to minimise the long-term impact of the brain injury, and help the survivor and their family to cope successfully with any remaining disabilities.

Find out more in the Effects of brain injury section.

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