Mild vs. Severe Traumatic Brain Injuries

Every year, over 1.7 million people sustain traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). The vast majority of these brain injury victims are treated by emergency room physicians and then released, however others are not so lucky. About 275,000 victims are hospitalized as a result of their injury. Sadly, these injuries take an estimated 52,000 lives every year. In fact, it is estimated that TBIs play a role in about 30% of all injury-related deaths in the United States.

Why are some brain injury victims quickly released from the emergency room while others are hospitalized? Why are some brain injuries fatal while others are not? It has to do with the severity of the injury. TBIs are classified as mild, moderate, or severe depending on the extent of the injury. There’s no question that every TBI is serious, but a mild TBI is not nearly as life threatening as a severe TBI. Here’s what you need to know about the similarities and differences between mild and severe TBIs:

How Mild and Severe TBIs Occur

TBIs can be classified as either open or closed injuries. An open injury occurs when the skull is fractured or an object penetrates the skull and enters the brain cavity. The skull does not fracture during a closed injury, but the brain still sustains damage. Closed injuries can be caused by a blow to the head or a sudden back-and-forth motion that causes the brain to make contact with the skull.

It is highly unusual for a mild TBI to be an open injury. Most mild TBIs are concussions, which are closed injuries. The vast majority of severe TBIs are open injuries, which usually cause more brain damage.

What Happens After Sustaining A Mild or Severe TBI

It is often assumed that everyone who sustains a TBI will immediately lose consciousness, but that’s not necessarily true. A person who has sustained a mild TBI may or may not lose consciousness. If the victim does lose consciousness, it should not last for more than a few minutes. Mild TBI victims can suffer from temporary memory loss as well, but their memory should return within an hour or two.

It’s completely possible to remain conscious after sustaining a mild TBI. But if you have sustained a severe TBI, you will always lose consciousness. Doctors typically do not classify a TBI as severe unless the victim has lost consciousness for a minimum of 24 hours.  These victims can suffer from memory loss as well. The memory loss is temporary for some severe TBI victims, but unfortunately, it can be permanent.

Signs and Symptoms of Mild and Severe TBIs

Loss of consciousness and memory loss are two of many symptoms that brain injury victims often experience. People who sustain mild TBIs usually experience confusion, difficulty concentrating, irritability, dizziness, and loss of balance. A mild TBI can also lead to depression, anxiety, and mood swings.

These symptoms are unpleasant, but they’re nothing compared to what severe TBI victims experience. Severe TBIs can significantly reduce the victim’s cognitive abilities. Victims may experience difficulty processing information, retaining memories, and problem solving. This type of injury can also cause chronic pain, loss of bladder and bowel control, difficulty speaking, blurred vision, and reduced sense of smell and taste.

It’s important to note that every brain injury is unique. Some victims may experience all of these symptoms, while others will not. The symptoms you experience will depend on the location of the injury and the extent of the damage.

How Doctors Diagnose Mild and Severe TBIs

A mild TBI victim may visit a doctor right away if they know they hit their head or are starting to experience unpleasant symptoms. Sometimes, victims do not realize they’ve suffered a brain injury so they wait several days to see a doctor. Either way, the doctor can diagnose this injury based on your symptoms and ability to perform certain reflex and coordination tests. The doctor must rely on these tests to diagnose a mild TBI because this type of injury is not visible on MRI and CT scans.

People who have sustained severe TBIs are usually brought to the emergency room via ambulance. Severe TBI victims are unconscious when they are first seen by a doctor, so there’s no way to discuss the patient’s symptoms. But, doctors should be able to tell the patient has a head injury based on their observations alone. Doctors often perform imaging tests to determine the extent of the brain damage. Since a severe TBI causes structural damage to the brain, these injuries will appear on CT or MRI scans.

How to Recover From Mild and Severe TBIs

There is no way to treat a mild TBI, so patients are often told to rest both physically and mentally. This gives the brain time to recover from the traumatic injury, so patients should start to feel back to normal within a month or so.

The recovery for severe TBI victims can vary. Some severe TBI victims regain consciousness and are able to get back on their feet after intense physical therapy and rehabilitation. Others may take years to see any improvement. Sadly, many severe TBI victims never regain consciousness.

Should Mild TBIs Be Taken Seriously?

Some people assume that the word “mild” indicates a mild TBI is not serious, but that’s not true. A mild TBI may not be as serious as a severe TBI, but it is nothing to take lightly. Think of a mild TBI as a mild heart attack—it is not fatal, but it still needs to be treated by a doctor as soon as possible.

Have you sustained a brain injury in an unexpected accident? If so, seek legal representation from our experienced personal injury attorneys as soon as possible. Let our personal injury attorneys fight tirelessly to recover the compensation you deserve. Contact Carpenter & Zuckerman today to schedule a free consultation with our team of knowledgeable personal injury lawyers.

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