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What are the stages of traumatic brain injury?

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There are many types of brain injuries that people can experience, along with different stages, which can affect everything from the scalp and skull to the brain. The difficulty of treating and recovering from the injury will depend on the nature of the injury.

To help understand what a traumatic brain injury (TBI) entails and how it can impact a victim’s ability to recover, it’s important to know about the different types of TBIs and the different stages of intensity.

Types of TBIs

There are four main types of head injuries that qualify as TBIs: Concussions, penetrating injuries, contusions, and anoxic brain injuries. Each will involve different types and degrees of impact that can result in short-term to permanent damage.


Concussions are considered minor brain injuries, and they result from impact to the head, shaking, or sudden changes in movement. It’s not easy to detect a concussion via brain imaging due to their perceivably minor damage, but they are still considered potentially serious. While a single concussion can be serious, concussions can cause compound damage if two or more concussions take place over time, or if multiple concussions occur before the previous ones have a chance to heal.

Some signs of a brain injury involving a concussion include headaches, memory loss, concentration difficulties, and disorientation.

Penetrating Injuries

Penetrating brain injuries take place when objects make contact with the brain by breaking through the skull. Objects that may touch the brain in these injuries could include bone fragments from the skull, foreign objects, skin, or hair. Both the impact and contact could cause serious brain injuries.

Some potential causes of penetrating injuries may include auto accidents resulting in objects piercing through the skull, construction site accidents involving falling objects or other hazards, and slip and falls resulting in skull fractures.


Contusions involve bruising of brain tissue. Contusions result from the breaking and leakage of blood vessels, leading to mounting pressure in the head that can cause serious complications. Impact to the head can cause a contusion in addition to a concussion. Examples of causes of these injuries are a car accident that results in the head making an impact with the vehicle or sports-related accidents.

Signs of contusion may include confusion, emotional distress, loss of consciousness, and agitation.

Anoxic Brain Injuries

Anoxic brain injuries involve a lack of oxygen to the brain, which prevents the brain from functioning properly. Within as little as four minutes, brain cells will die due to inadequate oxygen, leading to brain injury. Oftentimes, anoxic brain injury results from blockage of blood flow, which can include strokes, trauma, or heart attacks. Other potential causes include drowning, suffocation, or other dangers that prevent the intake of oxygen through the lungs.

Stages of TBIs

There are three stages of TBIs that victims may experience.

Mild TBIs

Mild TBIs entail a loss of consciousness for a short period of time, usually for seconds or minutes at a time. In some cases, victims may not lose consciousness, only displaying mild disorientation or confusion. While imaging may not show conclusive evidence of a brain injury, a closer examination of victims can help assess the true extent of the injury.

Moderate TBIs

In the case of moderate TBIs, victims lose consciousness for as long as several hours or even weeks. Complications can then last for months or the rest of a victim’s life, and they may include compromised cognition, physical ability, or behavioral control.

Severe TBIs

Severe TBIs tend to involve serious physical damage to the brain through penetration injuries, contusions, or anoxic brain injuries. Severe brain injury is often fatal or leads to life-altering changes that last for the duration of victims’ lives.

Recovery periods and capabilities will depend on the extent of the TBI and the type of injury sustained. Knowing the differences between TBIs can help gauge the severity of brain injuries and determine the best course of treatment.

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