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State Council for Persons with Disabilities


Brain Injury Common & Uncommon Symptoms

A lot of people don’t want to talk about brain injuries unless and until they or someone they know sustains a brain injury. It is an uncomfortable topic because people who suffer brain injuries often look the same on the outside. Unfortunately, brain injuries are much more common than you might realize. Nationally, someone incurs a brain injury every 9 seconds. Recovery and return to functioning following any brain injury depends on the cause of the injury and person’s symptoms. There are as many types of brain injury as there are cause of brain injuries.

Mood Disruption/Emotional Symptoms

Mood issues are one of the most common symptoms suffered after a brain injury along with anxiety. It is very common for the personality of someone with a brain injury to change. Frequently frustration due to the individual’s other deficits caused by their brain injury cause anger and anxiety. Anti-depressants are sometimes administered and depending on the individual may help considerably. Psychiatric therapy is also beneficial to help deal with the person’s deficits.

Common Symptoms
  • Anxiety or nervousness;
  • Depression;
  • Anger and frustration;
  • Feelings of guilt, sadness, and confusion;
  • Sadness;
  • Irritability or easily angered;
  • Feeling more emotional;
  • Mood swings;
  • Changes in behavior;
  • Overwhelming flood of thoughts or emotions;
  • Trouble controlling behavior; and
  • More impulsive than usual.
Uncommon Symptoms
  • Emotional outbursts and spontaneity;
  • Manic Behavior (Switching between happy and depression.)
  • Impaired impulse control – inability to control feelings of aggression, anger, and irritability.
  • Loss of self or feeling like you are in a dream state or outside of yourself watching.
  • Spatial Distortion – Trouble sensing depth and geometry of objects.
  • Suicidal Thoughts;
  • Sudden development of new skills and abilities.
  • Complete Personality Shift; and
  • Loss of sense of humor.

Physical Symptoms

After a brain injury, the nerve cells in the brain may no longer send information to each other the way they normally do. This is why people with a brain injury may have changes in their physical abilities. Every person with a brain injury is unique and has their own recovery path. Some information may apply now, but not in the future.

Common Symptoms
  • Chronic Pain;
  • Delayed response;
  • Difficulty Walking;
  • Hearing problems;
  • Loss of coordination;
  • Loss of smell and/or taste;
  • Numbness and/or tingling;
  • Paralysis;
  • Persistent Headaches;
  • Problems managing bodily functions (e.g.:blood pressure, temperature regulation);
  • Problem swallowing;
  • Severe Nausea or vomiting;
  • Seizures;
  • Slurred Speech;
  • Spasticity;
  • Weakness on one of both sides of the body;
Uncommon Symptoms
  • An aching Jaw;
  • Aphasia (Inability to understand speech);
  • Bad taste in the mouth.
  • Cannot recognize people or places, gets confused, restless, or agitated
  • Inability to Speak (Dysarthria);
  • One pupil larger than the other;
  • Tinnitus (Ringing in the ears) & Hearing Loss;

Sleep Symptoms

People who have brain injuries frequently suffer from sleep disturbances. Not sleeping well can increase or worsen depression, anxiety, fatigue, irritability, and a person’s sense of well-being. It can lead to poor work performance and traffic or workplace accidents. Sleep disturbances are found in people with all severities of brain injuries from mild to severe.

Common Symptoms
  • Insomnia – Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep; or sleep that doesn’t leave you rested.
  • Excessive Daytime Sleepiness – Extreme drowsiness.
  • Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (Mixed-up sleep patterns.)
  • Extreme fatigue or drowsiness.
  • Problems with sleep or sleep patterns (e.g., trouble falling asleep, sleeping more or less than usual.).
  • Feeling drowsy no matter how much you sleep.
  • Waking frequently during the night.
Uncommon Symptoms
  • Hormonal imbalances;
  • Vivid Dreaming and Insomnia;
  • Sleep apnea;
  • Narcolepsy – Falling asleep suddenly and uncontrollably during the day.
  • Periodic limb movement disorder – Involuntarily moving limbs during sleep.
  • Parasomnias, a catch-all term for unusual behaviors experienced prior to falling asleep, or between sleep and wakefulness. (e.g.: Mental confusion or confused behavior in bed; Sleepwalking, Night Terrors, Sleep-related sexual abnormal behaviors, and sleep eating disorders)

Thinking & Remembering Symptoms

People who sustain a brain injury experience problems with their ability to think, plan, concentrate, and remember. Some symptoms may appear right after an injury while some show up days, weeks, months or even years after the brain injury occurred. Sometimes brain injuries are disguised as something else, especially when there was no obvious wound, blood, or unconsciousness from the persons injury.

Common Symptoms
  • Attention and concentration.
  • Processing and understanding information.
  • Short or long-term memory problems and general forgetfulness.
  • Communication.
  • Planning, organizing, and assembling.
  • Reasoning, problem-solving, decision-making, and judgement.
  • Controlling impulses and desires.
  • Being patient.
  • Restlessness and being easily distracted.
  • Difficulty finishing something or working on more than one task at a time.
  • Problems carrying on long conversations or sitting still for long periods of time.
  • Trouble following televisions, movies, etc.
Uncommon Symptoms
  • Anxiety and Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Vision & Balance Symptoms

Visual problems are often overlooked during initial treatment of a brain injury and in some cases; symptoms may not be present until sometime following the injury. If you notice any changes in your vision following a brain injury or head trauma, don’t ignore them: Immediately contact your eye care professional.

It is important to determine the cause of the vision change. Early diagnosis leads to appropriate treatment and/or referral to a specialist. Dizziness and balance problems are quite common with brain injuries resulting in an equilibrium problem that makes it hard for people with brain injuries to keep their balance. Balance and dizziness are a real problem for people who sustain a brain injury. The risk of suffering an additional brain injury becomes very high when balance problems can cause one to fall very easily.

Common Symptoms
  • Dilation of pupils
  • Vision disturbances (e.g., double vision)
  • Eye Focusing – blurred vision or ability to shift focus
  • Eye Teaming – Eyes not working together properly
  • Eye Movements – Difficulty trying to follow a moving object.
  • Motion sensitivity
  • Continual sense of disequilibrium
  • Visual Field Loss – Partial or total
  • Eye pain
  • Dizziness, unsteadiness or imbalance
  • Light and/or noise sensitivity
  • Increased Clumsiness or Coordination Problems
  • Slow movements or inability to move
  • Inappropriate gait or trouble walking in a straight line
  • Incorrect weight distribution and posture
Uncommon Symptoms
  • Post-traumatic Vertigo or sense of spinning;
  • Transient Blindness;
  • Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (Immediate but brief sense of dizziness when the head changes position.

    Direct Vision Problems

    • Double vision
    • Eye turns
    • Blurry vision

    Behavioral Changes

    • Fatigue during reading or computer use
    • Intolerance to crowded places or loud noises
    • Bumping into objects
    • Walking only on one-side of a hallway


    • Reduced reading comprehension
    • Decreased memory and attention
    • Loss of place when reading
    • Poor balance or posture
    • Loss of side vision
    • Reduced coordination


    • Sensitivity to light
    • Frequent nausea and dizziness
    • Frequent headaches
    • Inclination to motion sickness
    • Sore or irritated eyes during reading or computer use
    • Dry or watery eyes