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Traumatic brain injury (TBI) occurs to the brain after a blow to the head or a blow to the body affecting the head. Loss of consciousness is possible, but only occurs in about 20% of all head injuries. You can have a brain injury without any loss of consciousness, skull fracture, internal bleeding, or memory loss.
A “concussion” is the same thing as a mild traumatic brain injury. Don’t let the label “mild” mislead you. Mild TBI (mTBI) is often called an “Invisible Injury” because the injury cannot be seen on a CT scan or MRI. This does not mean that an injury is not there, but just that our current tests may not detect it.
What Happens to the Brain After a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury?
After a mTBI, the brain works very hard to fix itself. This is not easy and uses a lot of energy. This can make the brain feel slow.
Changes in vision or hearing
Hard time focusing or feeling “foggy”
Trouble following directions
Feeling unable to do more than one thing at a time
Changes in emotions, feeling more irritable, sad or worried
How long will the symptoms last?
Most people (about 80%) recover from a mTBI in about 10-14 days. Some people have symptoms that last much longer.
Those with a history of learning disabilities, ADHD, depression, anxiety, migraines, or prior head injuries may recover slower. Early on, we cannot tell who will recover quicker or slower. Symptoms will often get worse about 24-48 hours after the injury before they start to get better.
Treatment for mTBI
The best way to heal is by resting. This includes both physical and brain rest, which means avoiding anything that will increase your heart rate or requires too much thought.
In the first few days, activities such as exercise, sports, video games, texting, emailing, social media, and reading should be avoided.
After 2 or 3 days, these activities can be restarted slowly. Start with 15-20 minutes, and then increase the time or the difficulty of the activity as tolerated.
An increase in symptoms means you are doing too much and may need to slow down. At first, you should slow down to let the brain heal and recover faster. When you have symptoms in the first few weeks, your body is trying to tell you that you are doing too much.
When to Call
If symptoms get worse or do not improve over 7 days, please call your doctor.
You will need to follow up in the Brain Care Clinic. These experts can help you with your recovery and can also work with your school if help is needed.
You should plan to stay home from school for a few days. If you have symptoms while resting at home, they will likely get worse if you go back to school immediately. After 3 days, it is important to try returning to school. If a full school day is too much, start with a half day. You can also do some schoolwork at home. The most important thing is to start schoolwork slowly. If you speed through things faster than your brain can handle, the healing will be much slower.
You should not return to work, sports or other activities until you can handle a full school day and all your schoolwork. Most students are able to return to their full school days in a week or two.