The Mayo Clinic lists the symptoms of brain trauma here:http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/concussion/basics/symptoms/con-20019272
The following symptoms are taken directly from the above link:
- Headache or a feeling of pressure in the head
- Temporary loss of consciousness
- Confusion or feeling as if in a fog
- Amnesia surrounding the traumatic event
- Dizziness or "seeing stars"
- Ringing in the ears
- Slurred speech
- Delayed response to questions
- Appearing dazed
Some symptoms of concussions may be immediate or delayed in onset by hours or days after injury, such as:
- Concentration and memory complaints
- Irritability and other personality changes
- Sensitivity to light and noise
- Sleep disturbances
- Psychological adjustment problems and depression
- Disorders of taste and smell
Symptoms in childrenHead trauma is very common in young children. But concussions can be difficult to recognize in infants and toddlers because they may not be able to describe how they feel. Nonverbal clues of a concussion may include:
- Appearing dazed
- Listlessness and tiring easily
- Irritability and crankiness
- Loss of balance and unsteady walking
- Crying excessively
- Change in eating or sleeping patterns
- Lack of interest in favorite toys
- The primary and most common concussion symptoms will be headache, mental fog, memory deficiencies and fatigue.
- Difficulty concentrating and insomnia are also common.
- Sleep is the most important component of any recovery.
- Rest is just as important as sleep. Do not push your body or brain until your symptoms have subsided. This includes strenuous physical activity and demanding cognitive tasks.
- Do not drink alcohol or use drugs during your recovery. I also recommend against ingesting caffeine, particularly if you suffer from headaches or insomnia.
- Brain trauma can be very psychologically stressful. To help deal with these stresses, try to find healthy activities which allow you to stay calm and distracted from your condition. Also, share your struggles with close friends and family if possible so that you have a support system which is aware of the difficulties you are facing.
- Artistic endeavors (photography and painting) were the thing which gave me the most calm and peace during my difficult recovery. It is possible that you will feel more creative during your recovery, as creativity is often spurred by brain trauma. Engaging those impulses may benefit you emotionally and psychologically.
- Consult your doctor and have a full examination of your condition. If you do not have structural brain damage (which is the result of a severe trauma, particularly one which fractures the skull, to be determined via a CAT scan or MRI), you will fully recover provided you care for yourself properly. Sleep and rest as much as possible, particularly early in your recovery.
- My recovery lasted more than 5 years (I suffered 4 separate concussions in a 3 year period and did not care for myself properly for the first six months after my initial traumas) and I still notice improvements in my cognitive and psychological state now, nearly 6 years after my first TBI and 3 years after the last of the 4 TBIs.
- Try to stay as positive and present as possible throughout your recovery. The brain is incredibly resilient if properly cared for.
- Pursuing alternative therapies, supplements and treatments may help your recovery and your symptoms. I found multiple alternative therapies and supplements which benefited me, all of which are detailed HERE.
- Psychological symptoms can be just as powerful as cognitive symptoms. Sadness, irritability, alienation and personality changes are common, so having a strong support system and finding people who understand the difficulties of brain trauma with whom you can communicate can be very helpful.
- Sexual dysfunction is also common and possible. Refer to THIS section of the site for more on that topic.
- New research suggests that the brain can knit itself back together from injury if properly cared for. The concept has been named neuroplasticity and I encourage anyone who is anxious about their ability to recover from trauma to research it further. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroplasticity is a good start.
Concussion Symptoms All of the symptoms listed above are common indicators of a concussion however it is highly unlikely you will suffer from all (even most) of them at any one time. For instance, headaches and insomnia were linked for me and I suffered from both for a period of months, however dizziness and ringing in the ears were only present immediately after my injuries. Mental fog, confusion and memory problems are highly common but nausea and vomiting are less so. In the end, all of your symptoms can be disruptive to your daily life and ALL concussions are serious traumas which should be treated as such. Treat any concussion seriously, no matter how minor, and follow the prescriptions of your doctor by resting for as long as is necessary until your brain feels fully recovered, meaning that it is clear that you are thinking as clearly and as quickly as you did prior to your injuries. If you attempt to return to your daily activities (think physical exercise, late nights, strenuous cognitive tasks or drinking alcohol) you can and will dramatically lengthen your period of recovery. I attempted to push through my symptoms and lead the life I was accustomed to living prior to my injuries, and I paid dearly for it, as I explain in HERE (personal experiences tab). If you have suffered a concussion you will experience at least a couple of the common symptoms listed above. Ensuring that you rest and sleep as much as possible during your recovery is of utmost importance, particularly in the first days and weeks after your trauma. Do not drink alcohol, use drugs, go out with friends or physically exert yourself during recovery. Because I suffered multiple head traumas and failed to properly care for myself after my first two concussions I experienced an extraordinarily long recovery period and have personal experience with every symptom listed above other than nausea/vomiting. Each of these symptoms is a profound disruption to ones daily life and each should be taken seriously because in effect each is an attempt by your brain to make it clear that it is in need of special care. Focus on rest and sleep as much as possible and do your best to allow your brain and body to rest as long as they need to feel well again. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to know how long your recovery will last, which makes these experiences more frightening than most other injuries. While the symptoms for minor concussions may resolve themselves within days, more serious trauma will include longer recovery periods lasting weeks, months, or- in extreme cases- a year or more. The length of your recovery will depend upon a variety of factors including your cognitive baseline, history of brain trauma, the severity of your concussion, which part of your brain was most effected by your injury, and how well you care for yourself after the trauma occurs. Each TBI is unique because these variables are different for each patient. If you suffered a brain trauma which knocked you unconscious, you should expect a longer recovery period than those who remained conscious throughout their trauma. Unconsciousness and amnesia of the event in question always indicate a more severe trauma than a concussion which did not lead to loss of consciousness. I can speak to this from experience because during a 3 year span I suffered 3 concussions without losing consciousness and one which knocked me unconscious. The concussion which caused me to lose consciousness was the most severe by a wide margin. Confusion, Fatigue and Insomnia General confusion, disorientation, fatigue, insomnia, headache and memory problems are the concussion symptoms which normally most effect the lives of patients. Each of these symptoms is a perpetual reminder that your brain is not functioning the way you remember it functioning prior to your trauma; consequently, each of these symptoms are frightening and unsettling. Forgetting appointments, names and responsibilities are the kinds of experiences which only add to the mental fog and general confusion and being unsure that your brain will ever function the way it did before your injury is an incredibly frightening concept- one which patients may have to face repeatedly for weeks, even months. Staying focused on the things that you can control- primarily sleep, rest and recovery- will go a long way in helping you persevere through these very difficult experiences. Fatigue is also an issue which you will likely confront often while you recover. The cognitive fog you are experiencing will be coupled with mental and physical fatigue, the combination of which will make it harder to perform almost every task you are accustomed to performing with ease. I was physically tired for months and even years on end, which was the result of my brain being unable to channel energy the way it had prior to my injuries. I was told that the only kind of exercise I could perform was walking waist deep in a pool of water, so you might also consider going for walks which are not strenuous, or walking in a pool of water. Unfortunately, this is the most intensive exercise you will be able to do if you are suffering from a serious concussion. As I mentioned previously, I attempted to push through my fatigue on more than one occasion, each of which resulted in even worse symptoms. The only way to put these symptoms behind you will be to sleep, rest and properly care for yourself. It is possible that your fatigue could also be related to even more serious issues, such as neck problems or other physical limitations. If you suffer from extreme fatigue which lasts for longer than six months and does not seem to improve, I recommend exploring additional, alternative courses of action. I suffered from something akin to chronic fatigue syndrome which I attribute to my back and neck problems which were related to the falls and car accidents resulting in my concussions. During my year long period of chronic fatigue syndrome I felt overwhelmed by the sensation that my brain was not receiving enough blood, and therefore oxygen. If you are suffering from the same symptoms, refer to THIS section of the site. Headaches and insomnia will also be profoundly disruptive because they will prevent you from thinking clearly, not to mention competently performing your normal daily tasks. I suffered from a serious headache which often became a migraine for at least a year and took multiple doses of ibuprofin daily to cope with the pain, which was often excruciating. Those headaches contributed to my insomnia, which was concurrent and regularly kept me from sleeping before 5 am. Again, my recovery was more severe and difficult than most but if you suffer from insomnia it will be one of the most difficult symptoms to face because insomnia prevents you from sleeping when you need it the most. It will also force you to deal with even more psychological stress as you lay awake, fully aware that sleep is the thing you need the most while also providing you with you a needed respite from the stress of your injuries. As I discuss later and elsewhere on this site, I experienced a spike in creativity after my concussions and I used that creativity during my sleepless nights. This ultimately helped me stay as positive as possible during my most frustrating nights. Hopefully you will not experience insomnia but if you do, try to find activities which will allow you to forget and release your frustrations so that you can sleep as much as possible as often as you can. Find advice regarding stress relievers and distractions from your condition HERE. Sleep and Rest Sleep and rest will be the most important part of your recovery and it is imperative to make both your top priorities as you recover. Sleep is the time when your brain is able to repair itself most efficiently and as you sleep your brain is effectively knitting itself back together, therefore you need to make restful sleep your top priority. Give yourself permission to sleep as early and as late as possible in order to encourage a more rapid recovery. Almost as important as sleep is rest, meaning the elimination of all strenuous physical and cognitive activity until you have fully recovered. Refraining from physical activity is imperative because your brain needs to be cared for properly. Preventing it from being jostled, bounced or shaken is of paramount importance, even if you are accustomed to being active and doing things like running, organized sports or weight lifting, all of which put tremendous strain on your brain and body. Even yoga or swimming will likely put too much pressure on your body to exert energy it simply cannot produce. Remember, all of the energy in your body is now being prioritized to encourage your brain to recover. It takes more energy to think clearly, remember important things, and converse fluidly than it ever has before. For all of those reasons, you need to conserve the energy you have and focus on giving your brain time to recovery fully. Changing your patterns of behavior, sleeping as long as possible and focusing your energy solely on caring for your brain will be of utmost importance during this period of time. While rest and sleep are by far the most important pieces of your recovery, I have also experimented with numerous alternative treatments and supplements. After much trial and error I found some of both which benefited me, and I have listed them under THIS section of this site. If your recovery is exceptionally difficult and/or you are open to alternative treatments these could also be helpful for you, but the primary road to recovery will be deep sleep and the proper rest. The psychological effects of a head trauma are not addressed in depth above yet they can be even more difficult to treat and recognize than the physical symptoms. I address the psychological side effects I suffered from under THIS section of this website. Also, one additional symptom not addressed above which is a common side effect of brain trauma is sexual disruption and/or dysfunction. This side effect was deeply affecting and is addressed HERE. Recovery Timetable One aspect of brain trauma which can be exceptionally frustrating and frightening for patients diagnosed by a doctor with a concussion is the uncertainty of the timetable presented at the time of diagnosis. For instance, at my initial diagnosis I was told that I might suffer from symptoms for as short a time as one month to as long as six months or a year, entirely dependent upon variables which were undefinable at the time. This type of diagnosis is common for head trauma due to the complexity of the brain and the nature of the injury itself. Each brain injury is a unique trauma because each individual's brain has a distinct cognitive baseline which may react differently to trauma. Factors like the severity of the concussion, portion of the brain which made contact with the skull and nature of the injury itself will all dramatically effect the length of recovery from each injury. (Here is an interactive map of the brain, if you wish to study its different sections and functions). Consequently, concussions can and do provoke a wide range of symptoms and recovery timetables. This can be very unsettling for patients who wish to know how long they will be forced to change their patterns of behavior until they are fully recovered. Unfortunately, unless you have experience with this type of trauma it will be very difficult to predict how long your symptoms might last. That being said, caring for yourself properly and prioritizing sleep will always dramatically reduce your recovery timetable. The process of diagnosis and recovery is also much different than what one experiences after suffering a broken leg, a torn ACL or even a serious back injury. Suffering a concussion is a deeply frightening experience because your brain immediately ceases to function the way you have always expected it to. Brain function is something most of us do not pay close attention to or analyze, simply because it is such a natural part of our existence. However, after we suffer a brain trauma all of our functions and processes are immediately disrupted and we instantaneously become a different person, in that our brain simply does not respond in the way we remember it responding. In this time of fear and uncertainty the thing you hope to hear from your physician is a clear and confident diagnosis, timetable and prescription for recovery. That was certainly what I hoped to hear each time I visited the hospital, yet every time I left an appointment with my doctor I felt more confused and frightened than I had before I talked with them. This was because I was always left with a variety of questions which could not be answered. The doctors did not know how long it would take for me to recover fully, what would trigger my symptoms most, or even which symptoms would be most prominent and for how long. These experiences are very distancing and disconcerting, and I recommend that you go to each visit to your doctor with a trusted friend or family member who can offer you support and understanding as you struggle to process what is happening with your brain and your body. Also frightening is the fact that recovery from severe concussions is usually made slowly and incrementally, so very little of your recovery will be noticeable day to day. Staying focused on the aspects of your recovery that you can control and caring for yourself as best you can will allow you to better handle these difficulties. I spent many months unsure that I would ever recover because I actually did not notice any tangible improvements for weeks on end. Remember, I suffered multiple serious head traumas and my recovery lasted much longer than the standard recovery from a single, closed head concussion. Because I spent so much time recovering and was conscious of each development in my process of recovery, I can say with confidence that it is possible to fully recover from all mild to moderate (and most severe) concussions provided you care for yourself properly and prioritize healthy behaviors and your recovery. You should be aware that brain science is in effect in its infancy compared to our knowledge of the rest of the body, so the medical community is only now beginning to decode the mysteries of concussive trauma, particularly now that the issue has become more publicly recognized and accepted as a serious injury. It is important to note that the brain is incredibly resilient and capable of recovering from a wide range of very serious injuries if properly cared for. Despite the fact that I pushed my brain and body to the breaking point, I can confidently say that it continues to improve even today and that I notice strong cognitive connections to the way I remember thinking before my injuries. In fact, I continue to reintroduce activities and ideas that were familiar to me prior to my injuries with great success. For instance, I have had the idea for this website for at least two years but I did not feel capable of writing fluidly until approximately 3 months ago. Today, looking back at what I wrote 3 months ago, I see tremendous improvement in my ability to write coherently, competently and fluidly. I am sure that much of this improvement can be attributed to reintroducing the practice of writing into my life, but I am also sure that neurological pathways are being reintroduced and/or restored as I continue to work on this and other projects. In keeping with that theme, new research on the brain and its ability to reshape itself after trauma by creating new neural pathways has changed the way scientists view our consciousness, so much so that the brain is now regarded as a mutable, shifting organ rather than something static or fixed. In relation to brain trauma, this means that thought processes which were disrupted by your injury can be re-made or replaced by new or restored neural pathways as your brain recovers, provided you give it the opportunity to mend itself by caring for your brain properly. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuroplasticity Practical Effects In practice, each of the symptoms above can and will dramatically disrupt your life. Suffering from a constant headache/migraine will prevent you from focusing on tasks you normally complete with ease. Mental fog and confusion will shorten your attention span and lead to an inability to think clearly, form coherent arguments, write fluidly or concentrate for an extended period of time. Each of these symptoms will be extraordinarily frustrating and emotionally draining so finding healthy coping mechanisms and resting as much as possible will be the only things which will help you reach a full recovery. Take all the time you can to rest and sleep as much as possible. Removing yourself from school, work and other responsibilities will be absolutely necessary provided you can do so. If you are not in a position to remove yourself from other responsibilities and focus solely on your recovery then you need to use every free minute you have to rest properly. While many doctors now recommend patients not use phones, computers or the television while they recover, I found that I needed something to distract me from the pain and frustration I was feeling as a result of my injuries. I absolutely believe you should sleep and rest as much as possible but at some point attempting to find things which can distract you from your injuries will be important. Provided those activities do not worsen your symptoms, use them as needed respites from the emotionally draining reality of your condition. I distinctly remember a period of many months during my recovery when I was unable to remember the title of any book I needed to find in my bookstore for longer than 30 seconds. In our store, customers order books online that we must then find and ship. Every time a book was ordered I would stare at my computer screen for 30 seconds re-reading the title in order to ensure that I would remember it once I stood up to look for the book, however every time I rounded the corner of my desk I had forgotten the title I worked so hard to remember. I was accustomed to having a good memory prior to my injuries so one can imagine how frustrating and frightening those moments were for me. These are the kinds of experiences which will likely happen repeatedly if you have suffered a moderate or severe concussion, and they will be incredibly frustrating and frightening moments. Try to remember that your symptoms will improve with time and care, and if at all possible give yourself permission to be less capable in those moments of confusion. Putting additional pressure on your brain and psyche to be as competent or good as you were prior to your injuries will only add to your frustrations and cause additional stress, which is something you must minimize as much as possible in order to focus solely on your recovery. Because of the cognitive and emotional symptoms you will likely feel, almost everything will become more difficult for you. Speaking fluidly, constructing arguments, concentrating on anything, remembering your responsibilities- all of these abilities will likely be negatively impacted, at least for a short while. These changes will alter your behaviors and also the course of your days in a variety of ways. For instance, I did not have the attention span to read a book so I watched more television than I would have normally. I did not feel excited or hopeful about my life because of my symptoms so I spent much more time alone in my home than I would have otherwise. Because I did not feel engaged or invested in conversations with strangers, my patterns of behavior and communication changed enough that I did not attempt to make new friends or connections. I did not attempt to date because I was not as personable or charming as I had been previously, not to mention being concerned about the sexual dysfunction I mentioned previously. In the end I did not feel like myself, and that was the scariest symptom of all. If you suffer from any similar symptoms I recommend that you be open with the family and friends you can trust to be supportive and caring regarding your struggles. Having a support system who has been made aware of your symptoms and struggles will be especially important and will likely make you feel less alone. That in turn will help you feel better prepared to deal with everything that comes with your injuries. While it is unlikely you will suffer from all of the same symptoms I did, it is highly likely that some of your symptoms will effect your daily life. Focusing on your recovery and the things that you can control (like sleep and rest) will be very helpful to keep you moving towards a full recovery. Also, staying focused on the positive improvements you can see will be very important. Having spent multiple years in a period of recovery from TBI I know that it is possible to overcome tremendous challenges and severe deficits, however I am also aware of how frightening it is to be uncertain that you will ever be well and capable again. By finding healthy activities or pursuits which distract you from your condition and encourage you to stay positive, you will allow yourself to focus on personal care. In so doing you will be much better equipped to deal with a lengthy recovery. For friends and family, please read THIS section. For advice on personal care and what to expect regarding these injuries, please read THIS section.