March 13th, 2012
08:53 AM ET

What is traumatic brain injury?

A U.S. Army soldier is accused of killing 16 Afghan men, women and children in a house-to-house shooting rampage on Sunday. He could face the death penalty, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said.

The shooting has brought traumatic brain injury back into the news. Traumatic brain injury has become one of the signature injuries of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, offered an explanation in a past story, which we've reposted here:

It’s called “traumatic brain injury” or TBI. It’s a blow, jolt or penetration to the head that can disrupt the normal functioning of the brain. It can happen anywhere and at anytime – during a fall, car crash or even rough sports. Concussions are a milder form of TBI.

One of the biggest causes are unexpected blasts from improvised explosive devices or IED’s. Their sheer force can literally rock the brain, even when wearing a helmet. The skull strikes a hard surface and the brain goes back and forth, like jello wiggling, and then begins to bruise from the swelling.

It’s important to remember that there’s a broad range of severity for TBI. Common symptoms include headaches, dizziness, sleep disorders, nausea or memory problems. In mild cases, a traumatic brain injury may present as headaches or occasional dizziness. More severe cases can involve complete memory loss, personality changes or even persistent vegetative state.

Today, the Army checks soldiers before and after deployment to identify TBI cases. But unlike an obviously severed limb, traumatic brain injuries are difficult to diagnose, sometimes only noticeable years after leaving the battlefield.

Unfortunately, there is no one way to treat TBI. Recovery depends on the severity of the case and varies from person to person.

Everything from talk therapy to rehabilitation to the use of drugs to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety are used. The good news is that mild cases often require little more than rest and over-the counter pain reliever.

Filed under: Brain • Concussion

soundoff (39 Responses)
  1. terry

    Did we really need an article to tell us that tramatic brain injury is an injury to the head ? My, my, such breaking news !!

    March 13, 2012 at 11:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. JoJo

    LOL...good question .... its when you slaughter 25-30 people... right? 🙂

    March 13, 2012 at 13:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Gerg

    The article was lame. I think the article should have explored the ramifications of TBI on behavior and responsibility, and possible ideas on how to deal with some of the victims with severe deficits, and worse those like the Afghan shooter who became a danger to others because of his injury.

    March 13, 2012 at 17:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Alfie Morley

      Here's a good resource for information about traumatic brain injuries if you're really interested in finding out more information. They also have a blog with articles, I was just reading one about how a causal link between TBI's and PTSD has been found. I guess that's not surprising necessarily, but it gives you an idea of what these soldiers are forced to endure..

      March 27, 2012 at 19:23 | Report abuse |
    • Alfie Morley


      March 27, 2012 at 19:23 | Report abuse |
  4. FactsRBad

    This is what Palin, Beck and Rush have had for years......

    March 13, 2012 at 17:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. ma & pa

    The article was concise and factual... flip comments aside. TBI, even one, is a bbiiiiaaacchhhaaah, and recovery can be a lifelong struggle for the injured person. Bad tempered family saying like "snap out of it" is equivalent to ranting on a paralyzed person to jump up and run. Just wrecks um worse.

    March 14, 2012 at 02:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. SFJD

    From a legal standpoint, I don't see why mental illness from TBI needs to be treated differently from any other mental illness, for the purpose of the insanity defense: http://lawblog.legalmatch.com/2012/03/15/people-traumatic-brain-injury-criminally-culpable/

    March 15, 2012 at 14:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dewi

      Rich .. Let me first start by saying thank you for your secivre. Second let me apologize for all those that did not know better. Third I would ask you not to begrudge your fellow vets, as in a fire fight luck is in the draw of the cards or if you believe divine intervention. Any help for any vet should be embraced. While I can understand how speaking your peace may have made you feel better I would almost guarantee if you were to see any of the K9 s make a difference in the life of a fellow vet you would also feel better. I came to this site looking for information to assist other vets with this possibility. I am glad to have found these resources, having read every one of the posts yours was the one I felt compelled to respond to. Again a heart felt thanks to you and all the others who returned and were afraid to wear the uniform of their county. I do find peace in knowing you made a connection with a soul that does not know how to judge.. a K9 Peace be with you Brother.

      July 3, 2012 at 00:53 | Report abuse |
  7. Susan

    TBI is not a mental illness, it's physical damage to the brain.

    March 25, 2012 at 20:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Pretty

    Becki,My name is Rebecca Bosworth and I am a graduate sudnett at California State University Fresno. My degree is in Social work. I want to do my thesis project of Veterans with PTSD who have therapy dogs. I am having difficulty getting Veterans information from the therapy dogs corporations. My project would require a Veteran to fill out a anonymous questionnaire, regarding how their therapy dogs have helped them with their PTSD. would you be willing to participate in my project? School starts next Monday and I will be working on the particulars soon. this is a very important issue for me and I would like to be able to continue it. My father is a Marine Viet Nam Veteran and is involved in the military funerals in our mountain community. If you are willing to communicate with me by e-mail, my address isIf not, I wish you well and thank you so much for your service to our country. God Bless and thank you for sharing your story.Rebecca

    July 3, 2012 at 02:23 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.