You could get a bump on the head doing just about anything, and it could result in a small lump or a bruise that goes away on its own, or serious, life-threatening brain damage. Falls and motor vehicle accidents are the leading causes of traumatic brain injury, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A head trauma becomes a TBI when the damage interrupts normal brain function. However, you may not notice symptoms right away. Here is what may happen in the days and weeks following a head trauma.
Hidden TBI symptoms
Although you may be looking for visible signs of a wound or contusion on your head, the damage could have taken place entirely inside your skull. Bruises and bleeding within the enclosed space of the skull can lead to swelling or fluid buildup that puts dangerous pressure on the brain. However, the swelling may be so gradual, you do not notice any symptoms right away. In fact, a very small tear in a blood vessel could leak slowly enough that you may not experience any issues at all for weeks.
A wound in the brain may begin to heal as it should if the blood clots and stops the bleeding. That clot could become a threat if it dislodges and shifts so that it blocks the blood vessel and prevents oxygen from getting to the brain, triggering a stroke.
If you go to the doctor for an exam after a TBI, many of these invisible symptoms will be revealed through imaging such as an MRI or CT scan. The doctor may also uncover signs of brain trauma through other tests. Treatment of the initial problem is essential to prevent further brain damage.
Visible TBI symptoms
You may expect to have a headache after even a mild blow to the head. If that persists or gets worse, though, it is likely to indicate a TBI. Other common physical symptoms include problems with balance, dizziness, nausea and changes in your sleeping patterns. Mental problems may involve trouble concentrating, forgetfulness, loss of memories and confusion. You may also suffer emotional changes such as depression, anxiety, irritability, mood swings and anger.
A TBI also makes you more likely to hit your head a second time, which can cause rapid and potentially fatal brain swelling.