Potential Effects of a Moderate or Severe TBI

A moderate or severe TBI may result in an extended period of unconsciousness (coma) or amnesia. The effects of a moderate or severe TBI are different for each person and may change during recovery. Most people will have one or more health problems after the injury that may include:

  • Physical symptoms
  • Problems with thinking and learning, and
  • Changes in motor skills, hearing, vision, emotions/mood, or behavior1

Symptoms of moderate or severe TBI

Symptoms of mild TBI and concussion
Thinking and Learning Motor Skills, Hearing, and Vision Emotion/Mood Behavior
Difficulty understanding and thinking clearly Weakness in arms and legs Feeling more emotional than usual Trouble controlling behavior
Trouble communicating and learning skills Problems with coordination and balance Nervousness or anxiety Personality changes
Problems concentrating Problems with hearing and vision Feeling more angry or aggressive than usual More impulsive than usual
Difficulty remembering information Changes in sensory perception, such as touch Sadness, depression
Long-term negative effects of TBI are significant

Even after surviving a moderate or severe TBI and receiving inpatient rehabilitation services, a person’s life expectancy is 9 years shorter. TBI increases the risk of dying from several causes. Compared to people without TBI, people with TBI are more likely to die from:

Seizures 50 times, Accidental drug poisoning 11 times, Infections 9 times, and Pneumonia 6 times more likely.

After inpatient rehabilitation for TBI, the following groups are more likely to die sooner:

  • Older adults
  • Men
  • Unemployed
  • People who are not married
  • People with fewer years of education
  • People with more severe TBI
  • People with fall-related TBI

In addition, people with moderate to severe TBI typically face a variety of chronic health problems. These issues add costs and burdens to people with TBI, their families, and society. Among those still alive 5 years after injury:

  • 57% are moderately or severely disabled.
  • 55% do not have a job (but were employed at the same time of their injury)
  • 50% return to a hospital at least once
  • 33% rely on others for help with everyday activities
  • 29% are not satisfied with life
  • 29% use illicit drugs or misuse alcohol
  • 12% reside in nursing homes or other institutions
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Report to Congress on traumatic brain injury in the United States: Epidemiology and rehabilitationpdf icon. Atlanta (GA): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2015.
  2. Corrigan JD, Cuthbert JP, Harrison-Felix C, et al. US population estimates of health and social outcomes 5 years after rehabilitation for traumatic brain injury. J Head Trauma Rehabil. 2014;29(6):E1-9.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health. Moderate to Severe Traumatic Brain Injury is a Lifelong Condition. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/pdf/Moderate_to_Severe_TBI_Lifelong-a.pdfpdf icon.
  4. Goldman SM, Kamel F, Ross GW, et al. Head injury, alpha-synuclein Rep1, and Parkinson’s disease. Ann Neurol 2012;71:40–8.