Skip to Content

What’s the Difference Between Mild, Moderate, and Severe TBIs?

a woman getting an MRI

Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) involve a disruption in the normal function of the brain that can be caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head, or penetrating head injury. TBIs are startlingly common, with about 2.8 million TBI-related emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and deaths occurring in the United States in 2014 alone. In fact, TBI contributed to the deaths of 56,800 people that year.

TBIs can be mild, moderate, or severe. It all depends on the nature of the accident and the severity of the impact to the head. Learn the causes, symptoms, and treatments for the three classifications of TBIs.

Mild, Moderate, and Severe Traumatic Brain Injuries

In general, most TBIs can be classified as mild, moderate, or severe. The symptoms and prognoses for TBIs vary depending on the nature of the injury.

Mild Traumatic Brain Injuries

A mild TBI can, but doesn’t always include, the following physical, sensory, and cognitive symptoms:

  • Loss of consciousness for a few seconds to a few minutes
  • No loss of consciousness, but a state of being dazed, confused or disoriented
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fatigue or drowsiness
  • Problems with speech
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Dizziness or a loss of balance
  • Blurred vision, ringing in the ears, changes in the sense of taste or smell
  • Memory or concentration problems
  • Mood changes or mood swings
  • Feeling depressed or anxious

Moderate to Severe Traumatic Brain Injuries

Moderate to severe traumatic brain injuries can include any of the signs and symptoms of mild injury, as well as the following symptoms:

  • Loss of consciousness from several minutes to hours
  • Persistent headache or headache that worsens
  • Repeated vomiting or nausea
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Dilation of one or both pupils of the eyes
  • Clear fluids draining from the nose or ears
  • Inability to awaken from sleep
  • Weakness or numbness in fingers and toes
  • Loss of coordination
  • Profound confusion
  • Agitation, combativeness, or other unusual behavior
  • Slurred speech

The prognosis for a moderate to severe TBI is typically not positive. Since TBIs involve the brain—the most complex system in the human body—it’s often difficult for doctors to predict the full extent of the damage and whether it will resolve or be permanent.

Most of the time, however, moderate to severe TBI victims face an uphill battle. Data supports the fact that it’s incredibly difficult to reverse damage to the brain caused by trauma. TBI victims often require multiple kinds of therapy as well as long-term care to manage their symptoms and help with activities of daily living. Individuals who sustain TBIs often cannot return to work or support themselves. This puts a monumental physical, emotional, and financial strain not only on the TBI victim, but on their loved ones as well.

What Causes a Traumatic Brain Injury?

A TBI can occur after a blow or jolt to the head. This can occur in a variety of circumstances, including but not limited to the following:

  • Falls. Falls are one of the most common causes of TBIs. In fact, in 2014, 81% of TBI-related emergency room visits in older adults aged 65 years and older are caused by falls, and almost half of TBI-related emergency room visits among people 17 years old and younger were caused by falls.
  • Auto accidents. Auto accidents, including car accidents, truck accidents, motorcycle accidents, and pedestrian accidents are a common cause of TBIs.
  • Violence. Violent acts including gunshot wounds, domestic violence, child abuse, and other assaults are common causes of TBIs.
  • Sports injuries. Certain high-contact sports, including American football, are notorious for the number of TBIs they cause. Such incidents are particularly common in youth.
  • Explosive blasts and other combat injuries. Explosions are a common cause of TBIs in active-duty military personnel.

How is a Traumatic Brain Injury Diagnosed?

There are several different ways that doctors can diagnose TBIs, including the following:

  • Basic neurological exam. The first step many doctors take is to perform a neurological exam. During this test, doctors will examine patients’ thinking, motor function, sensory function, coordination, and reflexes.
  • Imaging tests. Doctors may use a computerized tomography (CT) scan to visualize fractures and uncover evidence of bleeding in the brain, or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to create a detailed view of the brain.
  • Neurocognitive tests. Medical providers may perform neuropsychological or neurocognitive tests to help assess a patient’s learning and memory skills, ability to pay attention or concentrate, and speed at thinking and solving problems.

How to Treat a Traumatic Brain Injury

Depending on the severity of the TBI, treatment can vary greatly.


Surgery may be required to minimize additional damage to the brain after the initial injury. Surgery may resolve the following issues:

  • Remove clotted blood from the brain.
  • Repair skull fractures.


Medications may help manage a TBI victim’s symptoms or prevent further damage to the brain. Medications commonly administered to TBI victims include the following:

  • Diuretics to reduce the amount of fluid in tissues and relieve pressure from inside the brain
  • Anti-seizure drugs to avoid any additional damage that may be caused by seizures, which are more common after a TBI
  • Coma-inducing drugs to relieve the pressure on blood vessels that are having a hard time providing the brain with enough oxygen
  • Anti-anxiety medication to reduce feelings of nervousness and fear
  • Anti-depressants to reduce feelings of depression and mood instability
  • Stimulants to increase alertness and attention


Some TBI victims require rehabilitative treatment in order to restore some of their abilities to perform work and/or care for themselves. Such care may include the following:

  • Occupational therapy. This type of therapy helps a patient learn, relearn, or improve skills to perform everyday activities and self-care.
  • Physical therapy. This type of therapy helps a patient relearn movement patterns, including balance and walking.
  • Speech and language therapy. This type of therapy helps a patient relearn or improve communication skills and cognitive functioning.
  • Vocational therapy. This type of therapy assesses a patient’s ability to return to work and provides additional resources for addressing common challenges in the workplace.
  • Rehabilitation nurse. A rehabilitation nurse may be assigned to a patient who cannot care for themselves. This nurse provides services in a medical facility or at a patient’s home.

Recovering Compensation for a Traumatic Brain Injury

If you or someone you love suffered a traumatic brain injury due to another’s recklessness, it can seem overwhelming and unjust to have to pay for sudden accompanying expenses on your own. All of the aforementioned treatments can easily throw victims and families into financial ruin.

Working with an experienced personal injury attorney greatly increases your chances of recovering maximum possible compensation from any and all liable parties. At Greene Broillet & Wheeler, LLP, our Los Angeles trial attorneys have helped countless catastrophic injury victims recover the funds they need to receive the treatment they deserve. Our team can help you recover compensation for the following damages:

  • Past and future medical bills
  • Past and future lost wages
  • Pain and suffering

We’re here to help you through this. Call Greene Broillet & Wheeler, LLP at (866) 634-4525 to schedule a free consultation.