Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) affect millions of people a year. They’re extremely common, but many people have probably not heard of a TBI or what causes a TBI. TBIs can range from mild concussions to head injuries from motor vehicle accidents. Research has found that service members and Veterans, along with some other groups, are more likely to experience a traumatic brain injury and suffer from the long-term consequences of one. TBI and suicide in Veterans have also been linked, as TBI can make PTSD symptoms worse.
Keep reading to learn more about traumatic brain injuries and traumatic brain injury treatment.
The Link Between TBI and Suicide
First off, what is traumatic brain injury? Traumatic brain injury is a term that can be used for a wide variety of injuries, but all of these injuries happen to the brain. In 2020, there were around 64,000 TBI-related deaths in the U.S., meaning around 176 deaths a day.
Traumatic brain injuries occur when an external physical assault damages the brain. The damage can occur in just one area of the brain or in several parts of the brain. Traumatic brain injuries can occur from some kind of intense shaking of the brain with no skull breakage (like a car accident or shaking a baby), or they can occur from something penetrating into the brain (like a gunshot wound to the head).
TBI and Suicidal Thoughts
TBI and suicide have been linked among Veterans. A recent study has found that Veterans who experienced a mild traumatic brain injury were 3x more likely to commit suicide than the general population. Veterans who experienced a moderate to severe traumatic brain injury were 5x more likely to commit suicide. These numbers are shocking but also proof that traumatic brain injuries should be taken seriously.
Since 9/11, more and more military members have been experiencing traumatic brain injuries. Explosives were commonly used against American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan after 9/11; this is what started the rise in TBI among active-duty military personnel. With these numbers rising, the Veteran suicide rate also rose, causing the link between TBI and suicide to become clearer.
The best way to lower these numbers is to find ways to reduce TBIs in military members, as well as provide traumatic brain injury treatment to those who’ve experienced one.
Types of Traumatic Brain Injury
There are three types of traumatic brain injury: mild, moderate, and severe.
A mild traumatic brain injury would be something like a concussion caused by a blow to the head or something that causes the head to move rapidly back and forth. Though they’re called “mild,” mild traumatic brain injuries are still very serious and should not be taken lightly.
Immediate concussion symptoms include dizziness, headaches, problems sleeping, trouble concentrating, and more. Long-term problems from a severe concussion or repeated mild TBIs include problems concentrating, chronic headaches, poor memory, and bad balance.
Military personnel often experience concussions while on active duty, and they shouldn’t be brushed off. Not seeking medical care for a concussion, and receiving repeated concussions, can lead to serious issues.
Moderate to severe TBIs are usually caused by falls, firearm-related incidents, and motor vehicle accidents. Some traumatic brain injury long-term effects for a moderate to severe TBI can be coma and/or death.
If you survive an incident that results in a moderate to severe TBI, there are usually long-term and even life-long health problems that accompany it.
Traumatic brain injuries are medically classified according to the Traumatic Brain Injury ICD 10 Codes. These codes are listed below:
TBI ICD-10-CM Codes
- S02.0, S02.1: Fracture of skull.
- S02.8, S02.91: Fracture of other specified skull and facial bones; unspecified fracture.
- S04.02, S04.03, S04.04: Injury of optic chiasm; injury of optic tract and pathways; injuries of visual cortex.
- S06: Intracranial injury.
- S07.1: Crushing injury of skull.
- T74.4: Shaken infant syndrome.
Traumatic Brain Injury Recovery Stages
There are 10 stages of recovery from a traumatic brain injury. Not everyone will experience all of these stages, but most TBI survivors have experienced many of these stages in some way.
- Coma: Many people who experience a severe traumatic brain injury may also experience a coma. People in a coma do not move voluntarily. There is no eye movement, no speech, and no other attempts at communication. Thankfully, a coma will only last for a few weeks before a TBI survivor will hopefully move onto another stage.
- Vegetative State: While comas and vegetative states are commonly used as synonyms, a person in a vegetative state usually regains some of their reflexes. Their eyes may open and close, and they may respond to pain or noise in some way. While these may make a person seem awake, they aren’t. These responses are still good signs, however. Usually, when a person reaches this stage, it’s a sign that their brain is healing.
- Minimally Conscious State: At this stage, patients have limited awareness of their surroundings. Doctors may administer medications to help stimulate the brain more.
- Post-Traumatic Amnesia: At this stage, survivors can experience amnesia. They may struggle to remember their past and/or struggle to form new memories. Patients may also display aggressive or erratic behavior. This socially inappropriate behavior is common with many TBIs, but it’s especially common with injuries to the frontal lobe of the brain. Usually, at this stage, doctors will send patients to rehabilitation facilities to continue recovery.
In the next six stages, patients will experience different stages of confusion, inappropriate behavior, and agitation as the brain heals. Survivors of traumatic brain injuries can experience confusion and difficulty making decisions or creating plans. Many survivors will still struggle with memory issues or self-awareness.
Some survivors may not reach full recovery; many TBI survivors will still experience some traumatic brain injury long-term effects, like irritability, confusion, memory problems, inappropriate behavior, and more. For those who don’t recover fully and don’t “return to normal” after a traumatic brain injury, the treatments and medications available can offer some relief.
Traumatic Brain Injury Rehabilitation and Treatments
There are several ways to treat traumatic brain injuries. Depending on the severity of the TBI, the treatments can be anywhere from simple to extensive. For example, a concussion may just require some rest in order to fully recover from it. Things like alcohol and drugs can deter the healing process, as well as jumping back into activity too quickly after a concussion.
In the case of emergency treatments for a TBI, occasionally, traumatic brain injury surgery is required. Surgery can help remove blood clots/bleeding in the brain. Brain bleeding can put pressure on the brain and damage brain tissue, so this kind of surgery can be very helpful in TBI recovery. Additionally, removing parts of the skull or repairing skull fractures can help hasten the healing process. Sometimes, a hole in the skull is made to help with intracranial pressure.
One of the new treatments for traumatic brain injury is a progesterone injection. Research has found that a progesterone injection administered within a few hours after the traumatic brain injury occurs can help prevent brain damage.
Traumatic Brain Injury Medication
People who still suffer from some of the long-term consequences of a traumatic brain injury are not doomed forever. There are treatments available, such as medications, for those who are still struggling.
Doctors can prescribe antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications to help with mood stability and lessen feelings of anxiety or fear. Anticoagulants and diuretics can help prevent blood clots and remove fluid from the brain to relieve pressure. Muscle relaxants and anticonvulsants can help reduce muscle spasms and seizures. Stimulants can help increase alertness and attention.
These are just some of the options available for TBI survivors. There are also several therapy options available for those struggling in the aftermath of a TBI.
Traumatic Brain Injury Therapies
Things like physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy can help with physical strength and relearning how to do daily tasks. Psychological counseling and vocational counseling can help patients improve their overall well-being and help them return to the workplace. Cognitive therapy can help patients with memory and attention issues and can help them learn and plan better.
Resources for Military Members
The military has resources available for those who’ve suffered from a traumatic brain injury. Veterans who were injured in combat are able to undergo screening for a TBI with the VA. Veterans can also find resources for a TBI with the VA either in person or online.
TBI awareness needs to be increased in order to better help military personnel who suffer from one. Bringing awareness to traumatic brain injuries can help Veterans feel like they’re not alone – because they’re not.
The link between TBI and suicide is shocking but not surprising when learning about the long-term effects of a TBI. The best way to “treat” a TBI is to prevent it in the first place, but with the commonality of explosions in enemy warfare, the military must develop ways to better prevent TBIs among their service members. Traumatic brain injuries are no joke and should not be taken lightly, even if the injury is “just” a concussion. TBIs are serious, but there is help out there for those who’ve experienced one.
The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement. Photo by Heide Couch | 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs