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Effects of Traumatic Brain Injury

Learn more about traumatic brain injury (TBI), treatment options, self-help tools, and resources to manage the effects of TBI.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) can occur when something outside the body hits the head with significant force or causes the head to forcefully and rapidly move. There are many causes of TBI, including when the head hits the windshield during a car accident, an impact from a fall, sports or other recreational activities, or trauma from a nearby blast or explosion during military service. Whatever the cause, TBI can affect the ability to think, control emotions, walk, or speak, along with their senses of sight or hearing.

TBI can be mild to severe. Mild injuries are associated with brief changes in or loss of consciousness. Severe injuries involve longer periods of unconsciousness and memory loss around the event. Moderate and severe instances of TBI may be easier to diagnose.

“I was having trouble seeing. Everything was blurry, the headaches were nonstop, I couldn’t get measurements, and I was confused all the time. All of these were symptoms of a brain injury — we just didn’t know it yet.”

TBI can be mild to severe. Mild injuries are associated with brief changes in or loss of consciousness. Severe injuries involve longer periods of unconsciousness and memory loss around the event. Moderate and severe instances of TBI may be easier to diagnose.

TBI can affect many areas of a person's life, including physical functions, thinking abilities, and behaviors. These effects sometimes cause other difficulties such as sleeping problemsdepression, and anxiety.

Physical effects may include:

Cognitive effects may include:

Behavioral effects may include:

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Some of the symptoms of traumatic brain injury can look like emotional or behavioral problems, even though they are actually due to TBI. There are no standard TBI symptoms; the condition can affect people in different ways, and sometimes symptoms change during the recovery process. Some people may recognize TBI symptoms immediately, while for others, these symptoms don't show up right away or can be ignored or minimized at first.

If left untreated, the effects of TBI can affect the way you live your life and the relationships you have with others. Ignoring your symptoms and trying to "tough it out" may make symptoms worse.

The timeline for recovery varies from person to person. People with symptoms of mild TBI may recover over time, and signs may disappear within a few weeks or months. Some moderate to severe TBI symptoms last for a longer period of time and may be permanent. However, there are effective treatments and support for helping Veterans manage their symptoms and find a path to recovery.

If you have experienced an injury and have any of the following persistent symptoms, you should seek a thorough assessment for TBI:

“I’d say that the biggest thing that I had to deal with was frustration. I didn’t know why I was forgetful all the time or always in a bad mood. I didn’t know that I had a traumatic brain injury.”

Some people with TBI think about harming themselves. You might believe that others would be better off without you or that there is no other way out of your problems. These thoughts need immediate attention. It’s important that you talk to someone right away. To reach the Veterans Crisis Line, Dial 988 then Press 1, use the Veterans Crisis Line online chat or send a text message to 838255. These services provide free, confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

Many Veterans receive effective treatment for TBI. During a TBI evaluation, you and your doctor will discuss what caused your injury. You may also talk about how to deal with the physical, cognitive, and behavioral symptoms and effects, such as difficulty concentrating and headaches, and how these things affect your daily life.

Your doctor may recommend counseling to help you learn ways to manage the effects of TBI. A brain injury can affect the way that the brain functions, and medications may be needed or changed to assist in recovery and coping.

Most doctors who treat head injuries agree that recovery is faster if you understand what is happening, get enough rest, and resume your responsibilities at your own pace.

Don't push yourself too hard. The time you spend at work, with family and friends, and in other activities should be determined by your comfort level. Only gradually increase your activity level over time. Consider whether or not those activities make your symptoms worse.

“My doctor zeroed in on what exactly was affected and gave me the right medications to deal with my TBI. I started speaking more clearly and I became less frustrated and less angry.”

You can take the following steps to help manage your TBI symptoms:

  • Get enough sleep.
  • Write things down or use electronic reminders if you have trouble remembering.
  • Establish a regular daily routine.
  • Check with someone you trust when making decisions.
  • Avoid alcohol. It could slow down the healing process and make symptoms worse.
  • Avoid caffeine, cold medications that treat nasal congestion, or other products that contain pseudoephedrine, which may increase the symptoms.
  • Recognize triggers. Keep a record to help identify situations that are more likely to worsen your symptoms.
  • Take up a hobby or a recreational activity.
  • Talk to others to keep you from feeling isolated and to give friends and loved ones a chance to support you.
  • Remember that symptoms are a normal part of the recovery — and that they will get better.

If your TBI symptoms are interfering with your life or are not improving, be sure to talk to your doctor. He or she may be able to suggest other steps other options based on what you are experiencing.

Every day, Veterans from all military service branches and eras connect with proven resources and effective treatments. Here’s how to take the next step: the one that’s right for you.

New to VA? Apply for health care benefits.

Already enrolled in VA and interested in mental health support? Schedule a mental health appointment.

  • If you’re already enrolled and using VA health care, the fastest way to schedule VA appointments is to call the VA facility where you want to receive care.
  • With VA Appointments tools, you can schedule some VA health care appointments online, view details about upcoming appointments, and organize your health care calendar.
  • If you’re not using VA medical services, contact your nearest VA medical center or Vet Center to talk about your needs.

What about other options at VA? VA offers a variety of tools and resources.  

  • The Veteran Training online self-help portal for overcoming everyday challenges includes modules on managing anger, developing parenting and problem-solving skills, and more.
  • Mental health apps for Veterans cover a variety of topics, ranging from PTSD to anger management to quitting smoking.
  • VA TeleMental Health connects you with a VA mental health provider through a computer or mobile device in your home or at your nearest VA health facility. You can learn more about this option from your local VA medical center.
  • Community-based Vet Centers provide confidential counseling, community engagement and referral services to eligible individuals and their families. You don’t need to be enrolled in VA healthcare or have a service connection to receive services. Find a Vet Center near you or call 1-877-927-8387, 24/7 to talk with a fellow Veteran about your experiences.

What about support beyond VA?

There’s a whole community of support ready to help with whatever you’re going through. Use this tool to find resources near you.

Read Next

Managing PTSD

PTSD may develop as a result of traumatic events. Treatment works and can help you deal with PTSD symptoms.

Coping with Depression

Depression can interfere with relationships, work and the ability to get through the day and it can affect Veterans from all walks of life. Treatment works and can help you deal with depression symptoms.

Understanding Feelings of Confusion

Learn when confusion and forgetfulness might be signs of a problem. Hear stories from other Veterans. Find treatment options for confusion.

Additional Resources

Vet Center logo

Vet Center

Vet Centers are community-based counseling centers across the nation in all 50 states and US territories that provide a wide range of social and psychological services, including counseling to eligible Veterans, service members - including National Guard and Reserve components – and their families. Counselors and outreach specialists, many of whom are Veterans themselves, are experienced and prepared to discuss the tragedies of war, loss, grief, and transition after trauma. To learn more, find your nearest Vet Center. Teams are also available 24/7 by phone at 1-877-927-8387.

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Veterans Crisis Line logo

Veterans Crisis Line

Are you a Veteran in crisis or concerned about one? Connect with the Veterans Crisis Line to reach caring, qualified responders with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Many of them are Veterans themselves. Free support is confidential and available 24/7. Dial 988 then Press 1, chat here or text 838255.

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Self-Help Tools logo

Self-Help Tools

Veterans can access online courses that provide instruction and training in problem-solving, parenting, anger management, sleeping better, managing stress and more.

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