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Demystifying TBI: Not just a combat related injury

Young people paying football
A Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is a blow or jolt to the brain that can be life-altering if the symptoms are not recognized.

Did you know falls are the leading cause of TBI-related hospitalizations? Anyone can suffer a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Falls, firearm-related suicide and vehicle accidents are three common causes of TBI.

However, TBI can occur during other activities such as being exposed to blasts while serving in a combat zone or playing a contact sport.

A TBI can happen in many scenarios, but what exactly is a TBI?

A TBI is an injury to the brain that affects brain function and can have physical and /or psychological symptoms. A TBI may occur when there is a blow or jolt to the head or when an object penetrates the brain.

When the brain is injured, people can experience a change in consciousness that can range from becoming disoriented and confused to slipping into a coma. Events that cause head injuries may result in memory loss (amnesia)  immediately before or after the incident. It is important to know that while all TBIs are head injuries not all injuries to the head result in a TBI.

How serious is a TBI?

The severity of the injury can range from mild (a brief disorientation or loss of consciousness) to severe (an extended loss of consciousness or a penetrating brain injury, like a gunshot wound to the head). A mild TBI is also known as a concussion.

The severity of a TBI is determined based on a continuum and the particular classification used to designate a person as having mild, moderate or severe injury which can be somewhat arbitrary. The severity of a TBI is determined at the time of the injury and is based on various factors including:

  • Length of the loss of consciousness
  • Length of memory loss or disorientation
  • How responsive the individual was after the injury, for example, whether they were able to follow commands

Whether you may have experienced a TBI event in the battlefield, the playing field, or the bottom of the stairs; it is important to talk to your primary care provider about it. Your primary care provider can help determine if you need a TBI evaluation.

Resources for Veterans are available online on VA’s website. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention provides information about TBI to the public.

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