How To Tell If TBI Is Mild Or Severe

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Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a medical condition that can affect one’s physical, neurological, and/ or emotional functioning and occurs as a result of experiencing a jolt or blow to one’s head. Not all hits to the head result in a TBI. The symptoms that manifest as a result of a TBI will vary significantly, as they depend on the type of injury, the severity of the injury, as well as the area of the brain that was injured. For some, a TBI may only affect the exact location on the brain where the injury occurred, while for others a TBI could also affect surrounding tissues and cause damage to one’s brain in other areas apart from the initial site. Hence, some TBI symptoms may appear immediately and dissipate rather quickly, while others may present several days or weeks later, and further, persistent symptoms may evolve over time. 

Glasgow Coma Scale

When assessing the severity of a traumatic brain injury, medical health professionals often rely on the Glasgow Coma Scale. According to the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, “the Glasgow Coma Scale provides a practical method for assessment of impairment of conscious level in response to defined stimuli.” The Glasgow Coma Scale is a 15-point test that checks an individual’s ability to follow directions (e.g. moving one’s eyes, limbs, etc.). Based on one’s abilities, the individual is then scored from three to fifteen, where lower scores are indicative of more severe injuries. In addition to the Glasgow Coma Scale, evaluating medical professionals also rely on the presence of certain symptoms (e.g. the coherence of the individual’s speech) when delineating the severity of his or her injury. 

Symptoms

The symptoms that have the propensity to present as a result of a TBI are wide-ranging, with varying levels of severity and longevity. Mild TBIs are often referred to as a concussion. According to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), about seventy-five percent of TBIs that occur each year are classified as mild TBIs. The symptoms that present will directly correlate to the severity of one’s traumatic brain injury.

  • Mild TBI Symptoms: could include, but are not limited to any combination of the following examples, as provided by the Mayfield Brain & Spine Clinic:
    • Headache
    • Feelings of fatigue and/ or exhaustion
    • Difficulty falling asleep
    • Memory impairment (e.g. trouble remembering new information)
    • Confusion 
    • Dizziness 
    • Irritability
    • Nausea 
    • Trouble with concentration, thinking and/ or attention
    • Vomiting
    • Sensitivity to light and/ or sounds
    • Blurred vision
    • Anxiety 
    • Behavior and/ or mood changes
  • Moderate to Severe TBI Symptoms: could include, but are not limited to, any combination of the symptoms of mild TBIs in addition to the following examples, as provided by the Mayo Clinic:
    • Persistent, worsening headache
    • Loss of consciousness from several minutes to hours
    • Convulsions and/ or seizures
    • Repeated vomiting
    • Dilation of one or both pupils of the eyes
    • Continued nausea
    • Inability to awaken from sleep
    • Loss of coordination
    • Combativeness 
    • Weakness or numbness in fingers and toes
    • Clear fluids draining from the nose and/ or ears
    • Slurred speech
    • Profound confusion
    • Agitation 
    • Coma and other disorders of consciousness

In order to obtain the most effective treatment, it is essential for an individual to be thoroughly evaluated and for a TBI to be properly classified as mild or moderate to severe in nature. Depending on the individual, and his or her circumstances diagnosing a mild TBI could be challenging for any providing medical professional, even with the extensive diagnostic tools available. 

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