TBI Consumer Report: Long-Term Post-TBI Health Problems

Mount Sinai Medical Center
TBI Consumer Report: Long-term Post-TBI Health Problems

Between 1993 and 1998, the Research and Training Center on Community Integration of People with TBI interviewed hundreds of individuals about their lives after experiencing traumatic brain injuries. People were eligible to be part of this sample if they viewed themselves as someone who has experienced a brain injury and has a disability. A comparison group of individuals who view themselves as non-disabled was also interviewed. These samples include men and women from all regions of New York State — from rural areas, cities, and suburbs. People as young as 18 and as old as 65, of all races, income levels, and life experiences participated in this research. In each issue of TBI Consumer Report, we share some of the insights resulting from these interviews. Here we focus on HEALTH.

What Was the Starting Point for this Research?

At the beginning of our research program, we gathered together a panel of 50 women who had experienced brain injuries to talk to each other about the state of their health since TBI. In sharing their thoughts, they discovered that they were not alone in having problems such as weight gain, headaches, balance problems, change in body temperature, change in the texture of their hair and skin, and the like. Many of these women noted that their symptoms, which often had continued over several years since injury, were dismissed either as unimportant by the medical community or as unrelated to TBI.

This panel's discussion led us as researchers to want to find out more. The next step was to review what existing studies reveal about the long-term health effects of TBI. Surprisingly little scientific information was available on what happens to health over the long haul after TBI. We decided, therefore, to do a formal study including both men and women. From the RTC study (see above), we asked over 300 people with TBI and nearly that number of nondisabled individuals about health problems they were experiencing at the time of the interview. We report here some of the findings, particularly those in which people with TBI differed most from the nondisabled sample.

What Did We Find?

Many of the complaints the women's panel had expressed were also found in this study, which has a larger sample of males and females and where people with TBI and those with no disability are compared:

  • Balance difficulties, sleep disturbances, frequent headaches, seizures, spasticity and loss of urinary control are examples of the chronic neurological problems found significantly more often in the TBI group. Nearly 60 percent of people with TBI in our study reported current, long-term difficulties with balance and sleep.
  • Body temperature changes and hair or skin changes were also found significantly more often in the TBI sample than in those with no disability.
  • People with TBI experienced arthritic conditions more often, too.

Within the TBI sample, we found the following:

  • Women were more likely than men to have a thyroid condition, headaches, sleep disturbances, loss of urinary control, frequent colds, arthritic symptoms, and changes in weight, hair/skin, or body temperature.
  • As individuals age, they are more likely to have sleep disturbances, loss of urinary control, arthritic changes and thyroid problems. This doesn't mean that just seniors have these problems, but that with each passing year the probability increases that these problems will emerge, whether the person with TBI is 20 or 65.
  • Individuals with more severe injuries were more likely than those with only a brief loss of consciousness to experience each of the health problems mentioned except thyroid problems. They were also more likely to experience frequent sinus infections and blood pressure changes.

What Do These Findings Mean for People with TBI and Professionals?

If you, a person with TBI, are experiencing health problems that began after your brain injury, you are certainly not alone. And, if you have any of the symptoms discussed here, you might take this report to your doctor for him or her to evaluate. Also be aware that if you are a female or have had a more severe injury, and with each passing year, you are more likely to have (or develop) the kinds of health problems reported here.

  • If you have balance difficulties, you should ask your doctor to test you for a possible vestibular dysfunction. Positional treatment programs offered in post-TBI rehabilitation may be helpful. Medications, such as sedatives, should be carefully evaluated by your physician. You may want to obtain a neuro-ophthalmology examination from an eye doctor familiar with brain injury.
  • If you have sleep disturbances, you should discuss this with your physician. Evaluation of sleep problems should include a thorough history of such problems, medication review and an assessment of your bedtime routines. As necessary, a sleep lab evaluation should be considered. Most important, medications to enhance sleep should be tried. Physicians who specialize in brain injury often recommend low-dose serotonergic or noradrenergic antidepressants. Some consumers have also found herbal teas or melatonin useful, which are sold in health food and drug stores, with no prescription needed.
  • If you experience loss of urinary control, a urological assessment and workup by a physician should be pursued. When appropriate, you should be taught bladder management routines that can be integrated into your daily life.
  • If you have arthritic complaints, the need for assessment is clear. Anti-inflammatory medications may be prescribed, as necessary. Many consumers report improved arthritic conditions when they relocate to drier climates or pursue a long-term exercise program.

For health care providers, these findings suggest that TBI may have severe long-term consequences on health problems that may reduce quality of life. Specific suggestions are noted above. We have reported on only some of what people with TBI shared with us and will expand on these data in future publications. These results have been published in the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation (Hibbard MR, Uysal S, Sliwinski M, Gordon WA. Undiagnosed health issues in individuals with traumatic brain injury living in the community. 1998; 13[4], 47-57).

The importance of this research is that it demonstrates very clear patterns of differences between health symptoms of people with TBI and of a non-disabled comparison group. Because this research is based solely on self-report, no medical tests were available to validate the reported problems. We believe, however, the self-reports, obtained through in-depth individual interviews, validly represent perceptions of people with TBI. In the future, studies that include medical testing are needed to corroborate these findings.

TBI Consumer Report is a publication of the Research and Training Center on Community Integration of Individuals with Traumatic Brain Injury, supported between 1993 and 2004 by Grant No. H133B30038 and H133B980013, to the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York City, from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, United States Department of Education. 

Posted on BrainLine July 25, 2008.

From Mount Sinai Medical Center. www.mssm.edu.

Comments (7)

Please remember, we are not able to give medical or legal advice. If you have medical concerns, please consult your doctor. All posted comments are the views and opinions of the poster only.

had a TBI in 2015 , have metal plates on right side of brain, , cant handle pain like i used too, im on morphine patches to help with the severe pain i get in my metal plates i have to use ice packs to help ease it , i cant sleep unless sedated , lots of headaches, my periods stuffed up , i cannot control my body temperature , hard to control my weight easy to put weight on , i suffer dizzyness , ringing in one or 2 ears or both together , low blood pressure as its always low or can be just right , cant read small writing no more , need glasses to read , cant handle bright lights, also remembering peoples names/faces and cant talk properly or cant get no speech out at all or it can come out really wrong and thats very irritating , i can loose direction at times , my anxiety/depression is like cant handle life as more anxiety attacks , nervous breakdowns , has anyone else have these since a TBI as i hope one day o will wake up with no head pain as i wouldnt wish it on anyone as well with my spinal disease , talk about more pain !!!!!

I was in an accident in 1981 and I sustained a fractured skull with a severe head injury, I was put out of the hospital because I was a "management problem" the day after my brain swelled and the left side of my face was paralyzed. I went to a new Neurologist who did a eeg and found I had damage and the swelling of my brain was pushing on my 7th nerve. He tried Cortizone to reduce the swelling with the option for surgery if it didn't work. Luckily the drug worked and being 20 at the time, I thought I'd be fine in a couple of days. Boy was I wrong, at first I made excuses the for reasons couldn't remember things or especially people's names and faces. To this day people think I' m a snob because I don't acknowledge them when in reality I don't know who they are and it's getting worse. I was put on an Excelon patch 5 years ago but stopped using it. I know I'm in trouble with more to come. Last MRI I was told if you look at a thought pattern of a normal person theirs hits abcdefg were as I think acdf, I.'m confused a lot when given directions, started menopause as 39, body temp is 96.8, the list goes on and I know it's getting worse. I'm having anxiety, depression and aggitation Next study, I'd love to be researched!!!

Hi Kelly
I just read your comment and I see it’s been a few years since you wrote it, I’m hoping that you’ll still get my reply. Like you,I was in an accident mine happened in the 1986. My TBI was closed head
diffuse axonal injury.
I was only 25 and had to do months and months of physical therapy to learn to walk , talk, eat and my left side has never worked correctly since.
What caught my attention in your post was when you said people thought you were a snob because you didn’t acknowledge them.
I thought it was just me. I too made excuses for not remembering and now I think that was the worst I could have done. It’s gotten worse as I’ve gotten older. I really have a hard time with remembering faces. it’s to the point that I can’t remember people that I’ve met many times (my neighbor for one).
I also have had a very hard time trying to figure out who I am. I don’t mean that I couldn’t remember my name etc. . .
When I woke up I don’t know how to explain it besides that. I didn’t remember a lot of people around me but I just didn’t know me!!! How I was before, like how I would react to things or express myself.
I’ve spent 35 yrs trying to figure it out. It’s like never ending puberty??
If you or anyone else has had this problem please let me know.
I wish I had some good advice about remembering people but I don’t. I’m sorry
But it’s nice to know that it isn’t just me.
Thank you

Hi on May 16,2017 I had an accident that caused me to have a TBI were they did an emergency Craniotomy and I was hospitalized for 10 day which that included Rehab I thought after having therapy for three months that I was getting better but I was wrong because one month later I have now started having pressure and pain around my incision site along with head aches, loss of sleep has anyone else had this happen if so what did you do? Any help will be greatful.

I had a recent TBI 3 months ago, had dizziness, poor balance, slowed speech, etc and I am still dealing with the headaches, vision, ringing in ears, comprehending things and I can only taste things with tip of tongue but nothing after, how long are these symptoms going to last?
One more question, before accident and TBI, I always avoided confrontation, sad to say I let a lot of people walk all over me and since the TBI, it's like I stand up for myself, I confront people, and I will not let anyone walk all over me. I don't feel any fear at all. Has this happened to anybody else? There was one gentlemen that said he also had the same effect? Thanks,
I look forward to any response or help clear up my questions.

RE: HEAT STROKE My son had a TBI 3 1/2 years ago at age 23. (Sub A and Sub D bleeds, coup-contra-coup with most damage in R Frontal Lobe) He had attention and mood problems before the TBI and much worse after. He has been working for a landscaper. With hard physical labor in high heat & humidity he has erratic behavior, much like a temper tantrum, extreme dizziness, lethargy which lasts several days. He seems much more affected than his coworkers and the erratic behavior cost him his job. Are TBI survivors more susceptible to Heat Strokes? If so we need to find another line of work for him.

YES, FINALLY - For past 5 or 6 years I felt like I was trying to swim upstream in the RAPIDS, but final I have found found this article which substantiates what I have thought all along. It also confirms I am not loosing my mind.  All of my symptoms ARE REAL and not just my imagination!!! Why is it I live in city of over 1.5 million people with a highly rated medical school that none of my physicians could make head nor tails of my current symptoms. I gave each a thorough, detailed medical history and even hospital records of my 7 week hospital stay, 24 days in coma, and none of them could put 2 and 2 together to get four. I think the problem is too many specialist wit a very narrow view. Frustrated brain injury survivor in Texas