The Side Effects of a Brain Injury

Joseph L. CantorMarch 4, 2021

Like the accidents that cause them, no two brain injuries are the same. Each traumatic brain injury (TBI) comes with a unique range of side effects. Some symptoms are immediate, others develop over time. This means that some TBI victims quickly recover, while others contend with side effects for years to come.

While there are factors that can influence your ability to recover quickly, or at all, from TBI, negative effects can still last for weeks, months, years, or even develop into lifelong challenges.

If you or a loved one were involved in an accident with a head injury, it’s important to understand these symptoms of TBI and to see a doctor if any of these symptoms, no matter how mild, arise. 

In this article, we cover all aspects of brain injury side effects, including:

Impaired Consciousness
Physical Complications
Effects to the Senses
How Long do Brain Injury Side Effects Last?
What Are the Long-Term Effects of TBI?
Can You Fully Recover From a Brain Injury?

If you suspect your symptoms may be the result of a TBI caused by the negligence of someone else, our Virginia Beach and Richmond brain injury attorneys can help you navigate the process of moving forward from your injury.

Traumatic Brain Injury Side Effects

The side effects of a head injury can be physical, emotional, mental, or a combination of all three. Some of these symptoms are inconvenient, while others are completely debilitating, restricting the patient from living a normal life. The side effects of TBI can include the following:

Impaired Consciousness

Some of the most recognizable symptoms of moderate to severe TBI involve impaired consciousness, both immediate and long term, which prevents the victim from operating in a normal state of awareness. These side effects include:

•   Coma: Following widespread damage to the entire brain, a person will slip into complete unconsciousness or coma. They may awake after a few days or weeks, but if not, they enter a vegetative state.

•   Vegetative State: In a vegetative state, the entire brain has been injured and the victim is unconscious, though they may respond to reflexes and make sounds. A vegetative state may be permanent, although some people regain some measure of consciousness.

•   Minimally Conscious: When recovering from a coma or a vegetative state, some patients regain some awareness of themselves and the environment.

•   Brain Death: Brain death, in which there is no activity in the brain or brainstem, is permanent, and without breathing devices, the patient will not survive.

Physical Complications

Because the brain controls the actions of the body, some side effects of brain injury can manifest in different areas of the body. Many victims fail to recognize these symptoms as side effects of a TBI because they may seem unconnected to the injury, but these may include:

•   Seizures: A seizure is caused by a burst of random electrical activity between brain cells, which causes sudden abnormalities in muscles, behaviors, and awareness. Some TBI patients only have seizures during their early recovery, but others have seizures for years to follow, which is then referred to as post-traumatic epilepsy.

•   Edema: Swelling, or edema, is your body’s response to injury. A brain edema is very dangerous because the skull leaves little room for the brain to expand, which can lead to permanent damage or death.

•   Hydrocephalus: Hydrocephalus, or fluid buildup in the brain after some TBI, causes swelling in the brain, and the pressure can have permanent, detrimental impacts on the brain.

•   Increased Intracranial Pressure: As with hydrocephalus, a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid (the fluid around your brain and spinal cord) increases pressure in the skull and can lead to spinal cord or brain injury.

•   Meningitis: As with any injury, a head injury can result in infection. In the case of TBI, infection can occur in the protective tissues around the brain (meningitis), which can then infect the brain or the nervous system.

•   Blood Vessel Damage: Blood clots in the brain resulting from a TBI can cause a stroke, more blood clots, or other serious health issues.

•   Headaches: Migraine-level headaches are a common side effect of TBI with onset lasting from days after the incident to several months.

•   Vertigo: Vertigo, the sensation of feeling suddenly off-balance or dizzy, is another common and disorienting symptom of traumatic brain injuries.

•   Hypotension: Hypotension, or low blood pressure, can be a result of TBI. If the blood pressure drops too low, oxygen and essential nutrients aren’t delivered to the brain, which can cause dizziness, fainting, and more serious injuries.

Effects to the Senses

It is not uncommon for patients who have suffered a traumatic brain injury to have full or partial loss of smell and/or taste.

 Such dysfunction can be devastating to the patient. It can also be potentially dangerous since the patient may be unable to smell gas or smoke.

This is the result of cranial nerve damage or damage to the nerves at the base of the skull that descends directly from the brain. Symptoms of cranial nerve damage can include:

•   Paralysis of parts of the face
•   Loss of or reduction of sense of smell or taste
•   Loss of vision or double vision
•   Difficulties swallowing•   Ringing in the ears or hearing loss

Typically, if the patient does not regain his or her ability to smell or taste within six months to one year following a brain injury, the loss will be permanent. 

Complete loss of smell is referred to as “anosmia.” Diminished loss of smell is referred to as “hyposmia.” Complete loss of taste is referred to as “ageusia.” Diminished loss of taste is referred to as “hypogeusia.”

 A smell and taste test administered for the traumatic brain injury patient may reveal changes in taste and smell, sometimes even when the patient has not yet realized he or she has such dysfunction. Some patients experience significant changes in diet after a brain injury without even appreciating that such changes are due to loss of smell and taste. 

Other Side Effects of TBI

Side effects of TBI can extend beyond the physical and mental to affect all aspects of your health, including:

•   Hormonal effects: Two parts of the endocrine (or hormonal) system are near the brain: the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus. If injured, they can cause hormone problems, including adrenal insufficiency (resulting in weight loss, low blood pressure, and other symptoms), diabetes insidious (recognizable by frequent urination and thirst), hypothyroidism (fatigue, constipation, and weight gain), or other health challenges.

•   Cognitive Effects: TBI can have a range of effects on the patients’ cognition, including trouble with memory, learning, reasoning, judgment, and attention span.

•   Executive Functioning Problems: In addition to cognitive effects, TBI can impact a person’s ability to effectively problem solve, multitask, organize, plan, make decisions, or finish tasks.

•   Communication Problems: Some of the more common side effects of traumatic brain injuries are problems with communication. Patients may have trouble speaking or writing and following conversations, which can in turn cause further social difficulties.

•   Behavioral Effects: TBI victims may experience extreme changes to their personality and behavior, like trouble with self-control, a lack of self-awareness, verbal or physical spasms, or risky behavior.

•   Emotional Effects: TBI patients may suffer inwardly, as well, with symptoms like depression, mood swings, irritability, and anxiety common after a traumatic brain injury.

•   Degenerative Brain Diseases: Research suggests that there are ties between degenerative brain diseases, like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and TBI. These diseases cause the slow degeneration of brain function.

How Long do Brain Injury Side Effects Last?

Brain injury side effects can be short-lived or last a lifetime depending on the extent of the injury. 

When mild brain injuries temporarily diminish brain function—known commonly as a concussion—the effects usually last between one week and three months. 

Symptoms like headaches, fatigue, depression, vertigo, and memory loss generally lessen within weeks, but some people continue to contend with these side effects for months or even years.

After moderate to severe TBI, symptoms tend to last much longer. Recovery from moderate to severe injuries usually requires at least three months and rehabilitation. Side effects can normally continue for up to two years and, in some patients, even up to a decade.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of TBI?

Depending on the severity of a brain injury, long-term effects can be subtle—like difficulty concentrating or car sickness—or life-altering, including memory loss, personality changes, and a loss of normal limb function. 

The more serious a brain injury, the more pronounced these long-term symptoms, and the more likely survivors are to experience life-long impacts to their personality, relationships, career, and even their ability to live independently.

Can You Fully Recover From a Brain Injury?

Recovery from a brain injury depends largely on the severity of the injury. 

Those with mild traumatic brain injuries typically see a full recovery within three months. 

People suffering from moderate TBI usually recover most of their brain function within months or years, though it may require physical or language rehabilitation, psychological services, and social services assistance. 

After severe TBI, recovery is unpredictable and lengthy; many victims of traumatic TBI never fully recover, while others’ condition worsens with time to a vegetative state or even death.

Podcast on Traumatic Brain Injuries

Joseph Cantor sat down with Anne McDonnell of the Brain Injury Association of Virginia to discuss many aspects and details of dealing with a traumatic brain injury.

Overcoming the Side Effects of Brain Injury

While recovering from the side effects of a brain injury is unpredictable, it’s likely that you’ll face challenges like high medical bills, rehabilitation, loss of work, and maybe even a new life as you know it. This can be a long, expensive process, which is why Breit Cantor is dedicated to helping TBI victims move forward.

When handling a traumatic brain injury case in which his or her client has suffered from any of these various side effects of TBI, our Virginia Beach and Richmond attorneys will develop evidence to demonstrate the impacts of TBI for the jury and the devastation it causes. Our lawyers specifically show the connection between the traumatic brain injury and the side effects it caused, as well as the negative impact those effects have had on your life.

 Having a thorough understanding of traumatic brain injury, its symptoms, and impacts is necessary for attorneys looking to defend their TBI clients. Our Virginia attorneys have extensive experience in TBI cases and appreciate the magnitude of the side effects of these injuries, which is why clients turn to us for help seeking the compensation they deserve to rebuild their lives.

If you have questions about a potential TBI case, feel free to contact us to schedule a free consultation. 

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