Many Head Trauma Survivors Share these Symptoms

This Combination of Symtpoms is Often Experienced after Brain Injury

There is a constellation of symptoms shared by many survivors of head trauma and traumatic brain injury. Research over the past decade has helped scientists and health care providers better understand these symptoms, and develop appropriate treatments. Symptoms of brain injury are present for many regardless of the severity of the initial damage.


Two types of head trauma related amnesia may be present after an accident.

Retrograde amnesia refers to forgetting what happened right before the head injury. Anterograde amnesia is the condition of not remembering what happened after the concussion, or traumatic moderate to severe brain injury.

One way the severity of head trauma is calculated, is by the length of time one's ability to remember is impaired. Amnesia may last for minutes, hours, days, weeks or sometimes even months. It’s possible that the actual accident is never remembered.

Sleep Disorders

It’s normal to have difficulty sleeping after traumatic head injury. Some common symptoms include not being able to fall asleep; falling asleep but waking up a few hours later and then not being able to go back to sleep; falling asleep at inappropriate times during the day.

Any degree of brain damage can alter the brain’s natural sleep wake cycles. Chemical messengers stimulating or subduing the brain may be released at the wrong time, or may not reach their intended destinations inside the brain.

Fatigue and Concentration Problems

It’s clear that not sleeping well can lead to fatigue. However, fatigue after head trauma is more complex than just losing sleep. When the brain has to work harder to communicate effectively, it becomes tired. Research shows that small changes in something as simple as focusing the eyes, can lead to cognitive fatigue.

Individuals who suffer from head trauma related fatigue describe it as “hitting the wall”.  It’s harder to get anything done, maintain focus and think critically.

Roller-Coaster of Emotion

Emotions are regulated by several areas of the brain. Factors such as memory, personal beliefs, ability to process incoming stimuli, stress and tiredness all affect how one feels emotionally. Emotions are to some extent also managed by chemicals secreted by the brain.

When these parts of the brain are damaged, emotional responses are also affected. It’s not unusual to be laughing one minute and crying a few minutes later. Overall patience is reduced when stressed, and feelings of anger may rise more quickly. These emotional changes can be interpreted as permanent personality change to those who knew the person before and after the head trauma.


The brain secretes a variety of chemicals that affect mood. When these are out of balance, depression may emerge.  About half of those affected by head trauma and brain injury complain they feel depressed.

Depression can affect anyone regardless of severity of the head trauma; however, it’s more common after severe head trauma. 

Perceived, and Real, Isolation

Right after an accident, there may be an influx of support from family, friends and members of one’s social circle. However, recovery from head trauma can take years, long after that initial show of support has waned. Once the cuts and bruises heal, friends and family may not realize that recovery is ongoing.

After moderate to severe head trauma, it may no longer be possible to perform the same work, or engage in recreational activities that were enjoyed before the accident. This also leads to feelings of isolation.

Hope for the Future

The important thing to remember is that the medical community is aware of the complex recovery needs of those who have experienced head trauma. There are medications, therapies, treatments and supportive environments available to help treat all of these common symptoms.


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