Symptoms of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

What are the Symptoms of TBI?

Most people with a TBI recover well from symptoms experienced at the time of the injury. Most TBIs that occur each year are mild, commonly called concussions, which is a mild TBI.1  But for some people, symptoms can last for days, weeks, or longer. In general, recovery may be slower among older adults, young children, and teens. Those who have had a TBI in the past are also at risk of having another one. Some people may also find that it takes longer to recover if they have another TBI.

Symptoms usually fall into four categories:

Thinking/
Remembering
Physical Emotional/
Mood
Sleep
Difficulty thinking clearly Headache

Fuzzy or blurry vision

Irritability Sleeping more than usual
Feeling slowed down Nausea or vomiting

(early on)

Dizziness

Sadness Sleep less than usual
Difficulty concentrating Sensitivity to noise or light

Balance problems

More emotional Trouble falling asleep
Difficulty remembering new information Feeling tired, having no energy Nervousness or anxiety

Some of these symptoms may appear right away. Others may not be noticed for days or months after the injury, or until the person resumes their everyday life. Sometimes, people do not recognize or admit that they are having problems. Others may not understand their problems and how the symptoms they are experiencing impact their daily activities.

The signs and symptoms of a concussion can be difficult to sort out. Early on, problems may be overlooked by the person with the concussion, family members, or doctors. People may look fine even though they are acting or feeling differently.

See Getting Better, for tips to help aid your recovery after a concussion.

When to Seek Immediate Medical Attention

Danger Signs in Adults

In rare cases, a dangerous blood clot that crowds the brain against the skull can develop. The people checking on you should take you to an emergency department right away if you have:

  • Headache that gets worse and does not go away.
  • Weakness, numbness, or decreased coordination.
  • Repeated vomiting or nausea.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Look very drowsy or cannot wake up.
  • Have one pupil (the black part in the middle of the eye) larger than the other.
  • Have convulsions or seizures.
  • Cannot recognize people or places.
  • Are getting more and more confused, restless, or agitated.
  • Have unusual behavior.
  • Lose consciousness.

Danger Signs in Children

Take your child to the emergency department right away if they received a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body, and:

  • Have any of the danger signs for adults listed above.
  • Will not stop crying and are inconsolable.
  • Will not nurse or eat.

References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2019). Surveillance Report of Traumatic Brain Injury-related Emergency Department Visits, Hospitalizations, and Deaths—United States, 2014. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Report to Congress on mild traumatic brain injury in the United States: steps to prevent a serious public health problem. Atlanta (GA): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2003.