Physicians generally define “mild” traumatic brain injury as a blow to the head, or a violent shaking of the head, with or without losing consciousness that can lead to temporary cognitive symptoms. The term “cognitive” refers to the ability to think, reason, concentrate and remember. We use our brains in this way every day, but when somebody suffers even a mild traumatic brain injury, simple tasks like remembering, concentrating, and tracking a conversation can be a great challenge. Other typical symptoms include fatigue, depression, and migraine headaches.
The term “mild” can be somewhat deceiving. This terminology helps medical providers define the severity of a traumatic brain injury. For example, some physicians feel that a mild traumatic brain injury can occur when somebody is unconscious for less than thirty minutes. A mild traumatic brain injury can also occur even if you don’t lose consciousness .
Mild traumatic brain injuries are somewhat controversial in the medical community. However, most medical doctors and psychologists agree that most mild traumatic brain injuries resolve with no long-term limitations or problems. However, a minority of patients suffering mild traumatic brain injury will have persisting, sometimes permanent limitations.
Determining and documenting the deficits from a mild traumatic brain injury is challenging. Many times, the limitations are subtle, and not easily observed in a typical examination. Imaging studies like MRIs or CT scans are not specific enough to visualize the microscopic damage mild traumatic brain injuries can cause.
Patients suffering from mild traumatic brain injury symptoms will often undergo a neuropsychological evaluation. These evaluations are grueling, and can take up to two full days to complete. The patient is put through a battery of mental agility tests to determine what areas of brain function have been affected by mild traumatic brain injury. There are specific tests for memory, concentration, and attention. Test results from a neuropsychological evaluation will be compared to “norms” that have been established over several years. Test results will help physicians design a treatment plan for the patient to regain function in areas affected by a traumatic brain injury.
Often, a person suffering a traumatic brain injury may develop depression or anxiety out of frustration in dealing with memory loss, and inability to concentrate. Neurologists and other specialist to help traumatic brain injury patients will decide a treatment plan to address both issues, and help the patient move on.
The Brain Injury Alliance of Oregon provides excellent information in support for patients, physicians, and family members dealing with this complex medical issue.