What is Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (Concussion)?

A mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a sudden jolt to your head that causes the way your brain works to change temporarily. It is also called a concussion. This could be caused by a blow to your head, a blast, or a sudden and severe movement of your head that bounces your brain inside your skull. Falls, fights, sports, and motor vehicle accidents are other common causes.

In addition to mild TBI, there are two other types: moderate TBI and severe TBI. Your healthcare team will decide if your TBI is mild, moderate, or severe at the time of the injury. Sometimes the symptoms of a mild TBI are much like those of a more severe TBI. Because every brain is different, it can be hard to predict exactly what your symptoms or your specific recovery will be like.

Diagnosing a mild TBI

Most TBIs are mild. If you have a mild TBI, you might be knocked out for a short time or you might just feel stunned for a while. Your healthcare provider may evaluate you to see if you have had a mild TBI. 

Diagnosing a mild TBI may be difficult because symptoms are similar to those of other conditions and signs may not show up on brain scans or X-rays. Your healthcare provider may base your diagnosis on the following criteria:

  • Characteristics of the head injury

  • The types and severity of your symptoms

  • Risk factors that can lead to longer recovery period

Symptoms of a mild TBI

Having a mild TBI can change your brain in many ways. A mild TBI can change the way you think, feel, or act. The kind of symptoms you have depends on the location and extent that your brain is affected. Common symptoms of mild TBI can occur right away or a while after the injury. Early symptoms may include:

  • Headache

  • Dizziness

  • Not being sure of where you are

  • Memory problems

  • Being sick to your stomach

  • Vomiting

  • Vision problems

Later symptoms of a mild TBI may include:

  • Having frequent headaches

  • Feeling light-headed

  • Not being able to concentrate or pay attention

  • Feeling tired most of the time

  • Getting angry and irritated easily

  • Being bothered by bright light or loud noise

  • Having trouble focusing your eyes

  • Hearing ringing in your ears

  • Feeling anxious and depressed

Recovering from a mild TBI

Most people recover completely from mild TBI, but it may take days, weeks, or months. For some, symptoms may last even longer. Also, if you have had more than one TBI, your recovery may take longer. Every brain is different, so your recovery time will depend on how quickly your own brain is healing.

Don't return to sports or any activity that could cause you to hit your head until all symptoms are gone and you have been cleared by your doctor. A second head injury before fully recovering from the first one can lead to serious brain injury.

Different clinical guidelines and studies provide different recommendations or returning to full cognitive functions and daily activities versus resting the brain for a period of time. Talk to your healthcare provider about the best approach for you.

You can expect to have some good days and some bad days. It is important to give your brain time to recover and not push yourself too hard. Trying to “tough it out” can make your symptoms worse. The best way to recover is to discuss symptoms with your healthcare provider, as well as your family. Work closely with your healthcare provider and give your brain time to heal.