Brain injury symptoms may persist years longer than previously thought

Roughly 1.7 million people suffer traumatic brain injuries each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In serious cases, TBI can result in permanent disabilities and may even be fatal. What's more, recent research suggests that even mild to moderate TBI symptoms may persist for years after an initial head trauma.

What is traumatic brain injury?

A traumatic brain injury occurs when a bump or blow to the head causes the brain to collide with the inside of the skull, causing a disruption in the brain's normal functioning. A TBI can also occur as a result of a penetrating brain injury, such as a bullet wound. TBIs range in severity from relatively mild concussions to extremely serious and potentially life-threatening injuries.

Even an apparently minor head injury can sometimes result serious brain damage. Furthermore, after a person has sustained an initial TBI, his or her brain becomes much more vulnerable to further injury while it heals, making any additional blows to the head especially dangerous. Because the severity of a TBI does not always correspond to the apparent seriousness of the head trauma, it is important to seek medical attention right away after a blow to the head, especially if symptoms of TBI are present.

The symptoms of TBI vary widely depending on the nature and extent of the damage. Symptoms may include:

  • Physical symptoms such as headache, dizziness or fatigue
  • Cognitive problems such as confusion, memory loss or difficulty concentrating
  • Emotional disturbances such as irritability, depression or personality changes
  • Sleep disruptions such as insomnia or sudden changes in sleep patterns

In the past, it was believed that so-called "minor" TBIs like those that often result from contact sports or traffic accidents typically healed on their own with no lasting effects. However, recent research into the long-term consequences of concussions and other brain injuries suggests that people who sustain TBIs often experience symptoms for years afterward.

In many cases, symptoms persist for years

In one study, researchers at the University of Oklahoma studied 500 combat veterans who had screened positive for TBI while on deployment, examining the extent to which their symptoms diminished over time. Four years after their injuries, nearly half of the veterans surveyed were still experiencing TBI symptoms like headache, dizziness, difficulty making decisions, balance problems and lack of coordination. Alarmingly, nearly the same number of participants reported experiencing the same symptoms eight years after their injuries.

In fact, rather than improving, the study's lead author Dr. James R. Couch explained that the participants' TBI symptoms actually tended to worsen somewhat over time, the New York Times reported. And although the study focused on combat-related TBIs, Couch explained that the findings likely apply to those who suffer TBIs from other types of injuries, such as car accidents and sports injuries.

Seek legal help after a California head injury

In California, people who have experienced head trauma due to a car crash, workplace accident or other injury may be able to receive financial compensation for their injuries, medical bills, lost wages and other expenses. To find out more about pursuing compensation for a California head injury, discuss your situation with a knowledgeable personal injury lawyer.