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Going Unconscious: Mild Traumatic Brain Injury

Many people have sustained a mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI) over the course of their lives, usually from serious accidents. From contact sports like football, lacrosse or rugby, which could cause a blow to the head that may have momentarily disoriented the athlete but did not cause a loss of consciousness, to a car accident that caused the motorist or passenger to black out, MTBI is an injury that should be treated promptly.

MTBI is the result of an impact to the head or forceful motion that leads to a brief change, such as disorientation, confusion, memory loss, or loss of consciousness that typically lasts 30 minutes or less. It is the most common type of traumatic brain injury and is often overlooked or not appreciated for its seriousness. MTBI can lead to significant post-concussive cognitive, behavioral and physical disabilities.

Following a blow to the head, the victim may experience other symptoms like headaches, nausea, loss of smell, dizziness, memory loss, depression, sleep disorders, anxiety disorders and fatigue. In most cases, these symptoms dissipate after a day or two and the person resumes his or her normal routine. In a significant number of cases, however, even a mild blow to the head can result in long-lasting consequences if the victim fails to seek appropriate medical attention.

Roughly 15 percent of people who have sustained mild traumatic head injury have symptoms that last a year or more. More serious symptoms include seizures, visual disturbances, behavioral changes and inability to focus. Often, the effects of brain injury fail to manifest for days or weeks following the incident. The victim may also be unaware of the changes until a friend, family member or co-worker alerts him or her to the change in behavior.

Along with sports injuries, car, motorcycle and bicycle accidents often result in head trauma leading to brain injury. Wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle or bicycle may reduce the risk of head injury, but a violent collision may not prevent brain injury from occurring. The same is true of construction workers who are exposed to falls and falling objects in their daily work.

Medical imaging, such as MRI or EEG, can detect subtle changes in the brain that may require further medical attention. Getting prompt medical attention and monitoring post-concussive symptoms after a serious accident can minimize the risks of developing prolonged issues.

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