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Home / Articles / Health / Signs of a Traumatic Brain Injury

Signs of a Traumatic Brain Injury

Many domestic violence victims are at risk of TBI—know the signs and symptoms to get help

signs of a TBI

Domestic violence victims are at significant risk for a traumatic brain injury, or TBI. TBI is defined as an injury to the brain caused by trauma, most often from physical assaults, sports or motor vehicle accidents. The CDC estimates that, annually, 1.5 million Americans survive TBIs. The latest research found that the number of women who experience a TBI from domestic violence is thought to be 11 to 12 times greater than the number of TBIs experienced by those in the military or athletes combined.Of course, men and children can also experience TBI as a result of domestic violence. 

How Domestic Violence Causes TBI

There are several ways a victim can suffer a TBI at the hands of an abuser:

  • Strangulation (the victim doesn’t need to lose consciousness for the brain to be affected by even seconds of a loss of oxygen)
  • Suffocation in which an abuser holds a pillow, hand or other object over a victim’s mouth and nose
  • Abuser striking a victim’s head with an object
  • Repeated blows to a victim’s head through striking or kicking
  • Violent physical shaking by an abuser
  • Striking a victim’s head against a wall, headboard or other hard surfaces
  • An abuser pushing a victim down a flight of stairs or out of a moving car

A TBI Means an Abuser Is Escalating

Abusers almost always escalate their abusive tactics over time. A TBI is a severe red flag that an abuser is willing to use potentially deadly force to control their partner. You deserve to feel safe in your relationship and there are people who can help you get out safely. Read more about safety planning here and then consider calling your local domestic violence hotline to talk about next steps. 

Signs of a Traumatic Brain Injury 

A TBI can be either mild, moderate or severe. Symptoms of a mild TBI are often temporary. A moderate or severe TBI can cause bruising, bleeding and tearing within the brain, resulting in long-term complications and sometimes death. 

A victim may not even realize they’ve suffered a TBI. Sometimes symptoms can be delayed or may not seem obviously connected to a head injury. As a result, victims may not feel like they need medical care after an assault. Unfortunately, this can dramatically increase their risk of more severe symptoms later on. It’s important to be seen by a medical professional after an assault in which there was a blow to the head,  any loss of oxygen, or blood  circulation to the brain. 

Per the Mayo Clinic, the signs and symptoms of a mild TBI can include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Drowsiness
  • Problems with speech
  • Dizziness or loss of balance
  • Blurred vision
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Loss of smell or taste
  • Sensitivity to light or sound
  • Memory or concentration problems
  • Mood changes or mood swings
  • Feelings of depression or anxiety
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Sleeping more than usual

The symptoms of a moderate to severe TBI can include:

  • Loss of consciousness for several minutes up to hours
  • Persistent or worsening headache
  • Repeated nausea or vomiting
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Dilation of one or both pupils
  • Clear fluids draining from nose or ears
  • Inability to awaken from sleep
  • Weakness or numbness in fingers and toes
  • Loss of coordination
  • Profound confusion
  • Agitation, combativeness or other unusual behavior
  • Slurred speech

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What TBI Symptoms Look Like in Children

The symptoms of a TBI in children may be harder to spot because they may not be old enough to communicate what happened or what they’re feeling. If there is any suspicion that they may be suffering from a TBI, see a doctor immediately. 

Symptoms in kids may look like:

  • Change in eating or nursing habits
  • Unusually fussy
  • Persistent crying and an inability to be consoled
  • Change in ability to pay attention
  • Change in sleep habits
  • Seizures
  • Sad or depressed mood
  • Drowsiness
  • Loss of interest in favorite toys or activities

Try a Free TBI Screening Tool

If you’re still unsure if you’ve suffered a TBI or need medical treatment, you may want to try this TBI screening tool called HELPS. Know that even if you feel like your symptoms are mild now, they may increase in severity over time. It’s important to get a proper diagnosis in order to find the right treatment plan. 

Tips for Recovering From a TBI

In “How Strangulation Affects the Brain” we offer up the following tips for healing from a brain injury:

1. Recovery is not always quick. There can be wide, individual variations in the timeframe for recovery. It can take several weeks or several months for symptoms to fully resolve. 

2. Recovery is often uneven. There will be “good days” and “bad days.” This is normal in recovering from a brain injury. On good days, people want to get as much done as they can. Often, this can lead to overdoing it, which can bring back symptoms that were previously gone. 

3. Create the best possible environment for recovery. Substances like caffeine, alcohol and nicotine can affect a person with a brain injury much more than it did before the injury. Be aware of the possible consequences and consider abstaining.

4. Give yourself more time to complete things. Issues like fatigue, attention and memory issues can cause delays in completing tasks that were easily done before the injury. Allowing additional time to do things like laundry, menu planning, shopping and bill paying can help. Thinking out the steps needed to complete tasks and writing them down can be helpful too. 

5. Professional help is important. It is important to understand the effects of a brain injury. The injury itself can impair the ability of a person to accurately assess their abilities. And once problems are identified, often a person with a mild brain injury struggles with figuring out effective strategies to compensate for problem areas. 

6. Support groups can be helpful. Brain injury can be isolating. People say things like “you look fine,” with the implication that you should be fine. It is an invisible injury. Sometimes talking with others who have experienced a TBI can help a person with a brain injury understand they are not the only one dealing with these issues. Contact the Brain Injury Association in your state to find out about local support groups.

For more TBI support, check out PINK Concussions or Ohio Domestic Violence Network’s brain injury center.