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Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Symptoms

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A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is physical harm to the brain caused by an immediate and violent outside force (an impact, a jolt or a penetrating object). Injury to the brain may be focal (confined to one part of the brain) or diffuse (widespread), affecting any number of brain functions.

Traumatic brain injury symptoms may be barely noticeable, or they may be very obvious. They may show up immediately or appear days or even weeks after the head injury occurred. In mild cases, TBI symptoms resolve themselves as the brain heals. However, some worsen over time and persist for an extended period of time, as long as a year or more. In severe cases of TBI where permanent damage occurs, many symptoms will be prolonged.

If you or someone you love is experiencing TBI symptoms, seek medical care immediately. If the injury occurred as the result of an incident caused by another party, you may wish to speak with one or more personal injury attorneys about trying to obtain compensation through a settlement or lawsuit.

Overview of Symptoms

Depending upon the area of the brain damaged and the severity of the harm done, signs of brain injury may show up as mild or moderate to severe. They may include:

  • Cognitive symptoms (affecting the ability to be aware, remember and process information)
  • Behavioral symptoms (affecting the way a person acts)
  • Emotional symptoms (affecting the way a person feels)
  • Physical symptoms (affecting the way the body functions)


Children's symptoms resemble those of an adult, but they may be slightly more difficult to detect because children may not be able to fully describe their experience.

The most common symptoms of TBI are listed below.

Cognitive Symptoms

Mild Moderate to Severe
  • Brief period of unconsciousness (less than 15 minutes)
  • Temporary amnesia (victim may not remember events surrounding injury)
  • Confusion
  • Trouble thinking
  • Prolonged unconsciousness (coma)
  • Amnesia
  • Extreme confusion
  • Slurred speech
  • Lack of initiative
  • Trouble reasoning and making sound judgments

Behavioral Symptoms

Mild Moderate to Severe
  • Impatience
  • Restlessness
  • Confrontational behavior
  • Combativeness
  • Volatile, temperamental outbursts
  • Lack of self control
  • Impulsivity

Emotional Symptoms

Mild Moderate to Severe
  • Irritability
  • Frustration
  • Unprovoked mood shifts (i.e., crying then laughing, silliness)
  • Depression
  • Apathy
  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Guilt
  • Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness

Physical Symptoms

Mild Moderate to Severe
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Difficulty balancing
  • Dilated pupil(s)
  • Blurred vision
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Differences in tastes and smells
  • Change in sleep patterns
  • Weakness in the limbs
  • A bruise, bump or open wound on the scalp
  • An object penetrating the scalp
  • Different sized eye pupils
  • Bleeding or fluid draining from ears, nose and mouth
  • Persistent, painful headache
  • Back pain
  • Irregular breathing
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Difficulty waking up from sleep
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of coordination
  • Convulsions/seizures/epilepsy
  • Loss of sensation; Paralysis
  • Inability to hear, taste, see, smell

Children's Symptoms

Mild Moderate to Severe
  • Irritable and inconsolable crying
  • Irregular sleep habits
  • No interest in eating
  • No interest in playing
  • No energy
  • A bump or open wound on the head
  • An object penetrating the head
  • Any period of unconsciousness
  • Blood or watery fluid coming from ears, nose or mouth
  • Seizure
  • Vomiting
  • Irregular breathing
  • Talking gibberish
  • Trouble coordinating
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control

When You Need a Lawyer

A traumatic brain injury is often the result of another person's negligence. If you believe that your brain injury or the extent of your brain injury was caused by someone else's negligence, you may be eligible for financial compensation. In addition, if your injury occurred in an accident caused by someone who was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, that person will likely be subject to criminal penalties, including jail time for DUI. A lawyer can provide you with examples of traumatic brain injury settlements and court awards, and help you determine your legal rights.

Did You Know?

Every year, traumatic brain injuries kill 2,685 children between 0 and 14 years old.

Source: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control