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‘Mild’ traumatic brain injury – is there such a thing?

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Mild traumatic brain injuries often referred to as concussions, can be caused by many different events, including car accidents, sporting injuries as well as slips and falls.

Many people believe that because these brain injuries are classified as ‘mild’, the symptoms and consequences people experience are not as serious or significant as other injuries and are short lived. In some instances, this simply is not true.

This Brain Awareness Week, CFG Law want to raise awareness of these injuries and make people understand the impact they can have on a person’s life. With brain injury being the leading cause of death and disability around the world, it is important to raise as much awareness as possible.

Sometimes people who have experienced a mild traumatic brain injury or concussion can suffer symptoms for a considerable amount of time post-accident. These symptoms can include confusion, memory problems, fatigue, headaches, dizziness and changes in mood.

Research shows that after a mild traumatic brain injury that, “Most recover completely within 3 months of the injury, but around a third have some persisting symptoms beyond this time. Around 8% have significant symptoms at 1 year and in some cases these symptoms are possibly permanent” (Binder, 1997). More recent research showed that 22% of patients were continuing to suffer symptoms after 1 year (McMahon et al, 2014: TRACK TBI Study).

This research clearly shows that mild traumatic brain injury should not be treated so lightly and people need to be receiving early treatment and support to help in their recovery. Thankfully, most people recover in a matter of days, but some suffer persistent symptoms. More often than not, people who attend an emergency department with a head injury are diagnosed with a concussion and discharged home with very little input in terms of treatment, information and support. This needs to change.

If you have sustained a head injury, you may be given a CT scan to check for any abnormalities in the brain. However, it is important to understand the limitations of such scans. A common misconception is that, if there is nothing on the scan then this rules out the possibility of an injury. CT scans are good at detecting bleeds and hematomas but will not be able to detect microscopic damage. Often people will experience symptoms of a brain injury even when there is only microscopic damage.

There are also indicators of a brain injury used in the acute setting alongside brain scans, including whether there is any loss of consciousness and the Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS). Although these measures can indicate how serious an injury is right after an accident in an acute emergency setting and what medical intervention may be needed, they do not necessarily indicate the likely long-term outcome for the person.

At CFG Law we are very much client centric in our approach to brain injury and believe it is important that people receive early treatment and support to help them make a quicker and better quality of recovery. Many of our clients do not have a diagnosis of a brain injury when we are instructed, despite showing symptoms of ongoing cognitive problems associated with traumatic brain injury. We believe it is important to involve specialist clinicians very early in the case to ensure the correct diagnosis and the treatment plan is implemented.

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