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NIH MedlinePlus the Magazine, Trusted Health Information from the National Institutes of Health

Cover Story:
Traumatic Brain Injury

TBI Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention

Bob Woodruff in Iraq

Photo courtesy of ABC News


  • Mild: Person may remain conscious or be briefly unconscious (up to a few minutes); also, headache, confusion, lightheadedness, dizziness, blurred vision, ringing in the ears, bad taste in the mouth, fatigue (including changed sleep patterns), behavior or mood swings, trouble with memory and concentration.
  • Moderate or severe: As above, but headache worsens or does not go away; also, repeated vomiting or nausea, convulsions or seizures, inability to wake from sleep, dilation of one or both pupils, slurred speech, weakness or numbness in the arms and legs, loss of coordination, and increased confusion, restlessness or agitation.


  • Imaging tests, including X-rays of the head and neck to check for fractures or other problems; computed tomography (CT) scans to give a three-dimensional view.
  • To gauge severity, medical professionals typically use a standard, 15-point test to
    measure a person's level of consciousness and neurologic function, including speaking, seeing and movement.

"I have been very, very lucky in my ongoing recovery from the traumatic brain injury I suffered in Iraq."

—Bob Woodruff


  1. Immediate First-Aid
    • Seek medical attention as soon as possible
    • Keep the person still, lying face up, with head and  shoulders slightly raised; do not move the person unless absolutely necessary
    • Stop any bleeding, applying firm pressure to the wound with sterile gauze or clean cloth; do not apply direct pressure if you think there could be skull fracture
    • Monitor breathing and alertness; if breathing or movement ceases, immediately begin CPR
    • Sometimes when the brain is injured, swelling occurs and fluids accumulate within the brain space. It is normal for bodily injuries to cause swelling and disruptions in fluid balance. But when an injury occurs inside the skull-encased brain, there is no place for swollen tissues to expand and no adjoining tissues to absorb excess fluid.
  2. Professional Medical Care
    • Medical personnel try to stabilize the person's condition and prevent further injury by ensuring an adequate supply of blood and oxygen to the brain and rest of the body, and by controlling blood pressure
    • Moderate to severe TBI requires rehabilitation, which may involve physical, speech and occupational therapy, counseling and social services support
    • About half of the severely head-injured require brain surgery to repair or remove ruptured blood vessels or bruised brain tissue


To prevent head injury and reduce the risk of TBI, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urge people
to always:

  • Wear a seat belt when driving or riding in a car
  • Use a child safety seat, booster seat or seat belt for children when riding in a car
  • Wear a helmet when:
    • Riding a bike or motorcycle
    • Playing football, ice hockey or any contact sport
    • Roller skating or skateboarding
    • Playing baseball or softball
    • Horseback riding
    • Skiing or snowboarding
  • Store firearms and ammunition in a locked cabinet or safe
  • Avoid falls by using or installing:
    • A step-stool with grab bar when reaching for high objects
    • Handrails on stairways
    • Window guards to keep young children safe
    • Safety gates at the top and bottom of stairs when young children are around

Read More "Traumatic Brain Injury" Articles
A Family Finds Its Way / TBI Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention / NIH Research to Results / Go Local to Find Help / Changing the Odds

Fall 2008 Issue: Volume 3 Number 4 Pages 4 - 5