‘Science Says’ Sunday – Traumatic Brain Injury


Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

TBI has been in the news a lot lately and since it is Super Bowl Sunday (go Niners!), I thought I’d touch on this subject today!

 So, what is TBI? Basically, it’s a brain injury. Injuries that can be caused by hard blows to the head or body. Serious TBI can cause bruising, bleeding, or tearing. Most TBIs happen as a result of sports injuries, car accidents, or other physical activities (like you’ve heard about happening to our military troops). People often wonder how this happens; the physical injury can lead to a back and forth motion of the brain inside of the skull. The back and forth motion leads to the injury of the brain. That’s known as the primary injury. Secondary injury results when the brain becomes so injured that it leads to swelling. The swelling can lead the brain to become grow larger than the space inside the skull, which can lead to stopping oxygen flow to the brain. This secondary injury leads to more serious and potentially permanent damage.

What are the symptoms of TBI? According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms can range from mild to severe, including:

  • Mild: person is awake; eyes open. Symptoms can include confusion, disorientation, memory loss, headache, and brief loss of consciousness.
  • Moderate: person is lethargic; eyes open to stimulation. Loss of consciousness lasting 20 minutes to 6 hours. Some brain swelling or bleeding causing sleepiness, but still arousable.
  • Severe: person is unconscious; eyes do not open, even with stimulation. Loss of consciousness lasting more than 6 hours.

So how does TBI differ from concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)?? Concussions, contusions, and hematomas for example, all fall within the TBI definition. They are different types of traumatic brain injuries. Most recently, you may have heard a lot about CTE, especially if you know about football players like Aaron Hernandez. CTE is very much an area of active research, so we still don’t know a lot about it. According to researchers at Boston University, CTE is a progressive disease where the function of the brain becomes progressively worse over time. This has been identified in individuals, especially boxers, as early as the 1920s, but has gained the interest of the public in the context of football. Most common, CTE is found in people with a history of repetitive TBI (often athletes), including symptomatic concussions as well as concussions from hits to the head that do not cause symptoms. It’s important to note that CTE is not limited to current professional athletes; it has also been found in athletes who did not play sports after high school or college. The changes in the brain can begin months, years, or even decades after the last brain trauma or end of any exposure to sports.

How would you know if you have TBI or CTE? Also, can I get CTE after a single TBI?? After an injury to the head or body (e.g., if involved in an accident or sports injury such as a tackle in football for example), if a person experiences any of the symptoms listed above, the person may have a TBI. CTE usually involves chronic, repetitive injury, and according to scientists, “at this time the number or type of hits to the head needed to trigger degenerative changes of the brain is unknown. In addition, it is likely that other factors, such as genetics, may play a role in the development of CTE, as not everyone with a history of repeated brain trauma develops this disease. However, these other factors are not yet understood.”

For more information, consider the resources provided below:




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