Traumatic Brain Injury Symptoms Can Persist for Years

We’ve all heard the expression that’s used when a football player takes a blow to the head and appears shaken up on the field. Commentators virtually make light of the situation by saying, “He got his bell rung,” which gives the definite impression that if the player goes to the sidelines for a few plays, he’ll be ready to go again by the next series of downs.

Up until recently, doctors didn’t do much to dampen that view. They have long expressed the opinion that the effects of a bang to the head in a car accident, or when playing sports, or when someone trips and falls and hits their head off the floor will dissipate within a short period of time, given a bit of rest and relaxation for the victim.

This theory regarding head injuries has taken a knock of its own recently. A new University of Oklahoma study indicates that traumatic brain injury symptoms can last for years. In many cases, not only do the symptoms not disappear, they don’t even decrease in intensity.

The study was conducted on 500 veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who had screened positive for traumatic brain injury while on active duty. The results confounded doctors, and personal injury lawyers say the same findings could apply to victims of automobile accidents who suffer concussive injuries.

Post-concussion syndrome

When grouped together, the wide variety of traumatic brain injury symptoms suffered is known as post-concussion syndrome. These symptoms include:

  • Violent and persistent headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Poor coordination
  • Lingering depression, anxiety and uncontrollable mood swings
  • Problems with judgment
  • Lapses in memory

What truly surprised the doctors was the fact that people suffering from post-concussive syndrome experienced any improvement in their symptoms even after eight years had passed since sustaining the injury.

The study was broken up into two groups. One group had suffered traumatic brain injuries in the previous four years, while the second group had been injured up to eight years previously. The rate of recovery—or the lack of it—in the two groups was worryingly similar. The findings revealed:

  • Of those injured within the past four years, almost 50 percent said they were still experiencing headaches they described as “mild to moderate.”
  • Almost 46 percent of the same group said they were experiencing “severe” headaches.

The figures for those who were injured from between five and eight years ago were startlingly similar:

  • About 45 percent of the longer-term group reported that they were continuing to experience mild to moderate headaches, up to eight years after being injured.
  • Perhaps more worryingly, more than half (51 percent) described their ongoing headaches as severe.

Apart from headaches, precisely the same pattern was found with relation to four of the other five symptoms of post-concussive syndrome:  balance, dizziness, coordination and decision making. The only symptom that seemed to fade somewhat with time was depression.

Dr. James Couch, the lead author of the study, said that the increase in the number of brain injury victims in the second (longer term) group reporting severe headaches indicates that not only do traumatic brain injuries get better with time, the study indicates that things can actually get worse.

Unseen and misunderstood

The external effects of a head injury, barring scarring or other disfiguring injuries, disappear within a relatively short span of time. Dr. Couch says this in many ways makes things more difficult for sufferers of traumatic brain injuries, because while they appear completely normal “on the outside,” they are experiencing pain and cognitive difficulties that can have a devastating effect on their quality of life. This can make it exceptionally difficult for victim, because even close friends and family may not understand what the victim is going through.

The study also showed that symptoms were worse for people who had suffered more than one traumatic brain injury, suggesting a cumulative effect. This finding, which has been the subject of other studies showing similar results, could be a crucial factor in the current tidal wave of lawsuits the NFL is facing from players who were allowed, and even encouraged, to continue to play after suffering multiple concussions.

Explosions or vehicle accidents…the results are the same where brain injury is concerned

Dr. Couch said his study mostly concentrated on veterans who had been concussed by explosions, but he also said the data compiled included people who had been injured in other ways, including vehicle accidents. The results were virtually identical in both situations, which perhaps shouldn’t be too surprising. A traumatic brain injury is a traumatic brain injury, however it is caused.

In addition to the physical symptoms suffered by victims, Dr. Couch was quick to point out that the psychiatric effects can be equally debilitating, if not more so. Long term symptoms, if not successfully treated, can lead to difficulties in a person’s ability to get and hold down a job, or to maintain a relationship or family life. Losing a job or watching a family unit crumble can have devastating effects on a brain injury victim’s self-confidence and self-respect, which can in turn spiral into destructive behavior like alcoholism and drug abuse.

Treatment of traumatic brain injuries is also extremely complicated, according to Dr. Couch. Because some of the symptoms (headaches, dizziness, coordination difficulties) are physical and some are psychological (depression, mood swings, poor judgment), treatments are complicated and multi-faceted, requiring multiple therapies and multiple medications.

Early treatment equals better results

Dr. Couch says that early recognition and treatment of traumatic brain injuries is essential for victims. “If we treat these people early, we get a much better result,” he said.

People who have been involved in car accidents frequently receive bangs to the head they’re only vaguely aware of, if at all. The accidents happen so quickly, it can often take hours or even days before a victim realizes they may have received a head injury.

Even once an accident victim becomes aware that everything is not as it should be, they often delay seeing a doctor in the belief that the symptoms will go away after a few days, only to find things getting progressively worse as time goes on. Even family and friends might not understand, because physically, the victim looks fine.

It is for these very reasons that Portland personal injury attorneys encourage anyone who has been injured in a car accident, even if they think their injuries are relatively minor, to go see a doctor or other medical provider as soon as possible after the accident. Certainly, no one should go more than 72 hours without seeking a medical opinion.

Insurance companies are notoriously reluctant to accept traumatic brain injury claims, because the damages can be substantial. In most cases, they will either deny the claim outright, or they will vigorously defend it in court.

If you’ve been in an Oregon automobile accident that wasn’t your fault, and you think there’s any chance at all you may have been concussed, please get medical help immediately. After that, make it a top priority to contact an experienced Portland brain injury attorney for some expert advice.

A good personal injury lawyer will know what to expect from the insurance companies, and they’ll also be able to guide you through the process of determining how much compensation you’ll need to cover your medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, medicines and any additional or ongoing treatment you may require. The consultation is free, and if you’re going to file a traumatic brain injury claim for yourself or a member of your family, your best chance is to get expert help.