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Surprising Yet Common Symptoms of Mild TBI and Concussions


Have you ever fallen out of a tree, taken a tumble off your bike, or bumped your head? A common misperception many people have is that most hits to the head are relatively harmless. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Here’s why.

The human brain, despite its incredible power, is a very delicate organ that is the texture of soft butter. It is housed inside a very hard skull that has many sharp boney ridges to help protect it. The brain is not fixed in place but rather floats in a thin layer of cerebral spinal fluid. Therefore, any hard force against the head can injure the brain by causing it to slam up against the inside of the skull, including those sharp ridges.

Experiences like head-to-head collisions in football or hockey, whiplash injuries from car crashes, or simple household accidents such as being hit in the head by a heavy object falling from a closet shelf frequently go untreated even though they can result in some degree of injury to the brain. These can cause an array of symptoms—some that may surprise you—that you may not realize are related to head trauma.

Most people are unaware that even mild head injuries can cause a wide array of neuropsychological and behavioral problems. Click To Tweet

HOW HEAD INJURIES DAMAGE THE BRAIN

After getting hit in the head, many people think they can just “shake it off” and don’t think too much about it even if they get a little headache or feel a bit queasy afterward. It’s not unusual for someone to believe that if they didn’t lose consciousness or crack open their skull, they’re OK. However, a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI)—or concussion—can cause actual harm to the brain, including:

  • shearing of the axons—the fibers that allow brain cells to communicate with each other
  • bruising of brain tissue
  • disrupting the flow of oxygen to the injured areas in the brain
  • broken blood vessels, bleeding, and blood clots
  • cell damage that causes increased inflammation in the brain

COMMON SYMPTOMS IN PEOPLE WITH MILD TBIs

Symptoms that can emerge shortly after a “mild” head trauma include:

  • Feeling confused or disoriented
  • Onset of a headache
  • Dizziness and fatigue
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Sensitivity to noise or light
  • Problems with memory or difficulty concentrating
  • Increased moodiness
  • Irritability/anger
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Brain fog
  • Anxiousness
  • Difficulty with sleep
  • Balance and/or vision problems
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ear)
  • Lost sense of smell and/or taste

In many cases, however, these symptoms may take several hours or days—or even a few weeks to become apparent, which can make it difficult to connect the dots back to the head trauma as the cause. And, unless they’ve experienced these same concussive symptoms before, most people are unaware that even mild head injuries can cause such a wide array of problems.

LONG-TERM RISKS AND SYMPTOMS RELATED TO TBIs

Although most people recover from mTBI events, approximately 25% will continue to struggle with symptoms that interfere with the quality of their lives, and sometimes in very serious ways. They could be affecting how you feel, perform at work or school, and how well you interact with others. Most people are unaware that even mild head injuries can cause a wide array of neuropsychological and behavioral problems.

For example, research has shown that head injuries increase the risk for many mental health conditions, including:

Untreated head injuries can also lead to aggressive or violent behavior, personality disorder symptoms, problems with the law, an increased risk for dementia, and even suicide.

HOW BRAIN IMAGING HELPS IDENTIFY DAMAGE FROM PAST TBIs

If you go to the doctor to get help for symptoms such as these, your physician may completely overlook the possibility that you have had head trauma, especially if you don’t bring it up. One of the reasons for this is that most doctors don’t look at the brain, and if they do, it is usually with a CT scan. Although this type of imaging is critical for identifying any bleeding or a potentially life-threatening blood clot, it does not provide much information about how the brain is working. Brain SPECT imaging—an advanced technology that measures blood flow and activity in the brain—offers more valuable information regarding how the brain is functioning.

On SPECT scans, unhealed brain injuries show as areas of lower-than-normal blood flow. Depending on the parts of the brain that are affected, different kinds of symptoms can emerge. For example, injury to the prefrontal cortex can adversely affect mood, impulse control, and concentration, while damage to the temporal lobes can be linked to irritability and anger problems as well as memory issues.

What’s even more alarming? SPECT scans have revealed a high prevalence of past brain injuries in people who don’t recall getting hurt or who think that their injury was too insignificant to cause any damage or symptoms. At Amen Clinics, which has accumulated a database with more than 200,000 SPECT scans on tens of thousands of patients, approximately 40% of those patients have experienced a brain injury.

HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED ANY OF THESE COMMON CAUSES OF TBI?

Millions of people have bumped their heads at some point in their lifetime, yet many of us don’t remember the incident or believe it was insignificant. To determine if you might have had a head injury that could be contributing to lasting symptoms, ask yourself these questions. Have you ever:

  • fallen off a horse, a ladder, or a roof?
  • slipped on an icy surface in winter or fallen backward on skates and bonked your head at the ice rink?
  • been in a car accident, even a minor one, and hit your head on the dashboard, window, or steering wheel—or gotten whiplash?
  • hit your head on the bottom of a swimming pool after diving into shallow water?
  • been struck in the noggin by a baseball or bat while playing the game?
  • suffered a physical assault that involved your head?
  • tumbled out of the top bunk, a tree, or off the jungle gym at school when you were a child?
  • had a concussion from playing contact sports?
  • fallen on your head while cheerleading?
  • or any of many other possible causes of head injuries?

If you think you (or a loved one) may be struggling with lasting symptoms of a concussion or other type of brain injury—even if it was long ago—it’s important to get a comprehensive evaluation by a medical professional who is knowledgeable about head injuries. By doing so, you can be given a targeted treatment plan to help reduce symptoms and improve function in areas of your brain that have been causing problems for you.

Brain injuries, concussions, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.





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