In the United States traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a leading cause of death for persons under age 45. TBI occurs every 15 seconds. Approximately 5 million Americans currently suffer some form of TBI disability. The leading causes of TBI are motor vehicle accidents, falls, and sports injuries.

Traumatic brain injury and its causes, symptoms, and treatment are often misunderstood and can lead to mishandling of the issues surrounding it.

The following are some of the typical myths surrounding traumatic brain injury:

 

  1. You cannot have a TBI without loss of consciousness.  

This is a myth.  In fact, TBIs can present differently and a person does not have to lose consciousness in order to have sustained a TBI.

 

  1. You cannot have a TBI without hitting your head.

Medical research has discovered another mechanism of brain injury besides direct blunt trauma to the skull. In adults, severe whiplash can involve severe forces that may shake or rotate the brain enough to cause permanent brain damage.

When forces are imparted to the head and neck, especially rotational forces, the brain tissue itself becomes distorted, twisted and injured. This stretching can cause brain injury.

 

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Lateral views showing motion of head and neck during whiplash injury.

A second method of how the brain can be injured in high speed velocity change scenarios (for example a high speed car accident) is called “Isotropic Stress.” The damage is caused by a sudden change in the density of the inside of an individual brain cell. The instant compression causes damage to the internal structures of the brain cells.

 

  1. If the person looks fine after impact, then they are fine. 

 

While a person could be fine after an impact to the head, it is also possible for a person with a TBI to be walking, talking, and conscious. The individual could have a closed head injury with no outward signs of damage. However, individuals with a concussion or mild TBI could still have internal damage with pervasive and lasting neurological and psychological issues. What is particularly important to consider is that symptoms of TBI are often so pervasive and subtle that the individual experiencing the symptoms may not even recognize them as symptoms. They may just feel like something is “off” or they are just feeling different somehow.

 

  1. Mild TBIs are not that debilitating.

TBIs, including mild TBIs, can have subtle, but long-lasting and pervasive consequences for neurological and psychological functioning. Some effects of the TBI can be coped with easier than others, which may continue to have a very real impact on the individual’s life for a long time. Physical symptoms of TBI include loss of consciousness, amnesia, headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, balance problems, sensitivity to light or noise, changes in vision and hearing, fatigue, and sleep difficulties.  Cognitive symptoms of mild TBI include confusion, forgetting, poor concentration, changes in speech, slowed thinking and behavior, poor organization, lack of awareness, problems with information processing speed, and efficiency.

 

  1. Recovery from TBI is a straightforward, quick process.

While most individuals with a concussion or mild TBI achieve full recovery within a couple of days to a month, there are individual differences in recovery rates. These individual differences vary based on the injury itself, the co-occurrence of other physical injuries or mental health conditions (such as post-traumatic stress disorder), and how the individual responds following the injury. For many, recovery can be an ongoing process characterized by setbacks and frustrations.

In conclusion, there are many misconceptions about traumatic brain injury that contribute to misunderstanding of both the injury and individuals with the injury. Becoming aware of these myths may help friends and family to better understand what is going on for someone who experienced a TBI.

 

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