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Types of Brain Injuries

Most brain injuries, including concussions, fall under the umbrella term of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).  TBIs consist of three main categories, depending on the severity of the injury:

  • Mild TBI;
  • Moderate TBI; and
  • Severe TBI.


Mild TBIs, which include concussions, are the least severe of the TBIs, but can result in permanent symptoms and disability.  Every brain injury is serious, but the TBIs of a higher grade than a mild TBI are classified as either “moderate” or “severe.” In spite of the name, mild TBIs can be very serious injuries with lifelong complications.  In the sections below, there are basic, plain-English descriptions of how a TBI is classified.  However, patients should defer to their doctors for a specific diagnosis.


Despite recent advances in medicine, there are still many things that we do not understand about the brain.  Though we do not fully understand why, it is possible for one person to suffer a severe TBI and recover fully, while another person may suffer a mild TBI and have serious, lifelong complications.


Mild Traumatic Brain Injury

A concussion is technically a type of mild TBI, but the terms are usually used interchangeably.  Concussions, and all mild TBIs, are the result of trauma to the brain, causing a change in mental status (memory loss, confusion, or disorientation), or loss of consciousness for less than 30 seconds.  Concussions and other mild TBIs result from trauma to the brain, either from direct impact, rapid acceleration or deceleration, penetration of the skull and brain, or even the shockwave from an explosion.  This can happen when the head or upper body is jostled, even when there is no blow to the head.  Some common causes of mild TBIs are car accidents, assaults, falls, and sports injuries.  A common cause of brain injury where the head is not actually hit is a car accident, where the forces on the body can cause trauma to the brain even if the head does not strike anything.  This injury is very common, with millions of concussions suffered each year in the U.S. alone.  The most common initial signs of a concussion are confusion and amnesia.  Sufferers often experience some or all of the following symptoms in the hours, days, and even weeks or months following the injury:

  • Headache;
  • Fatigue;
  • Memory loss;
  • Trouble concentrating;
  • Dizziness;
  • Visual disturbances;
  • Sleep disturbances;
  • Irritability;
  • Argumentative behavior;
  • Suspicion;
  • Depression; and
  • Seizures.


In most cases, concussions and mild TBIs resolve themselves completely within the first one to three months.  However, as many as one in four people who suffer mild TBI will experience symptoms beyond three months after their injury.  One of our clients suffered a concussion when a metal box weighing 10 pounds hit his head at a fairly low speed in 2009, and he still suffers from headaches, has trouble concentrating, and struggles with irritability and hypersensitivity to light and sound.  When people have concussion symptoms beyond three months after their concussion, this is a diagnosable condition called Post-Concussion Syndrome, or sometimes Persistent Post-Concussion Syndrome.


Moderate and Severe TBI

As the names suggests, moderate and severe TBIs are like concussions, but more severe.  Moderate and severe TBIs also result from trauma to the brain.  When the injured person is unconscious or has limited consciousness for between 1 to 24 hours and suffers from confusion or memory loss for 24 hours to one week, the injury is classified as a moderate TBI.  When the victim is unconscious for over a day, or suffers confusion or memory loss that persists for over a week, the injury is classified as a severe TBI.  Due to the different classification systems used for assessing TBIs, there can be some overlap between these classifications.  Unlike most mild TBIs, the post-injury CT scan or MRI of a moderate or severe TBI will often show bruising, bleeding, or swelling in the brain.  Moderate and severe TBI sufferers are more likely to suffer long-term complications than those who have a simple concussion, but many still heal fully.  Though moderate and severe TBIs are not considered concussions, when TBI sufferers of any severity have complications lasting more than three months after the injury, these complications are still referred to as Post-Concussion Syndrome.


Diffuse Axonal Injury

Diffuse Axonal Injury (DAI) is another common type of TBI.  DAI occurs when the brain is rotated or shaken at high speeds.  Car accidents, sport injuries, falls, and Shaken Baby Syndrome are among the most common causes.  When the brain is subjected to this kind of injury, the axons in the brain are damaged.  An axon is the part of the brain cell that allows each cell to communicate with the rest of the brain.  When the brain is rotated or shaken, the trauma can stretch axons all over the brain.  This can cause axons throughout the brain to rupture like over-stretched rubber bands.


Because DAI can affect axons all over the brain, as opposed to a standard concussion which is more localized, the effects can be devastating.  Between 40% and 50% of all TBIs that require hospitalization are DAIs, and severe DAI often results in coma or death.


There is some overlap between DAI and mild to severe TBI classifications.  Unfortunately, researchers are still unclear on exactly how they are related to or separated from one another, and DAI often cannot be diagnosed with certainty except in an autopsy.  The symptoms include all symptoms that are caused by mild TBI, and the long-term consequences include problems forming new memories and difficulty thinking clearly.  If you are suffering from any of these symptoms after an accident, even if nothing actually hit your head, you may be entitled to compensation.  David A. Axelrod and Associates is as prepared as any law firm in Illinois to handle brain injury cases, and we look forward to helping all of our clients.