Effects of Traumatic Brain Injuries
When we think of relationship abuse, many people think of physical harm, such as black eyes or bruises. But this stereotypical view of domestic violence doesn’t account for the serious harm caused by nonphysical forms of violence, such as emotional, financial, digital, and other forms of abuse. One serious health issue related to abuse is traumatic brain injury (TBI). Not only can the effects of traumatic brain injuries last a lifetime, but symptoms often go untreated for domestic violence (DV) survivors. As such, families, friends, and loved ones can play a crucial role in helping survivors identify the signs and seek the healthcare they need. Here are some important things to know if you or someone you know is experiencing or at risk of abuse.
Women in violent relationships are significantly more likely to experience mental health concerns than women in nonviolent relationships, specifically depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Overall poor and chronic health problems—including headaches, memory loss, chronic pain, and gastrointestinal disorders—are common among women who have experienced abuse.
What are TBI?
Traumatic brain injury occurs when a sudden trauma causes damage to the brain. TBI can result when the head suddenly and violently hits an object or when an object pierces the skull and enters brain tissue.
As such, TBI can occur as a result of physical abuse or assault, such as causing a fall, being shoved, being struck by an object, or from gunshots near the head. Another cause of TBI is strangulation, one of the most lethal forms of DV. It’s possible to show no symptoms at first but die weeks later due to lack of oxygen and other internal injuries.
What are common effects of traumatic brain injuries?
The effects of traumatic brain injuries can be mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the extent of the damage. Someone with a mild TBI may remain conscious or experience a loss of consciousness for a few seconds or minutes.
Other symptoms of mild TBI include:
- Blurred vision or tired eyes
- Ringing in the ears
- Bad taste in the mouth
- Fatigue or lethargy
- Change in sleep patterns
- Behavioral or mood changes
- Trouble with memory, concentration, attention, or thinking
By comparison, a person with a moderate or severe TBI may show these same symptoms but may also have:
- A headache that gets worse or does not go away
- Repeated vomiting or nausea
- Dilation or one or both pupils
- An inability to awaken from sleep
- Convulsions or seizures
- Slurred speech
- Weakness or numbness in the extremities
- Loss of coordination
- Increased confusion, restlessness, or agitation
Intersection of DV & Primary Care for TBI
Since TBI can be so dangerous, a medical evaluation is essential when abuse or physical force to the head, neck, or face occurs. Here are some resources for talking to a healthcare provider or finding a health center near you.
- Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) funded health centers are designed to serve medically underserved populations.
- For your overall health and well-being, communicate certain things to your doctor, like if your partner has strangled or attempted to strangle you.
- These tips can help you talk to your healthcare provider about intimate partner violence during the initial intake or an appointment.
- Your doctor can help with safety planning, providing local resources, and documenting the abuse you experienced.
- If you are concerned about TBI symptoms, ask if your doctor can use more sophisticated imaging techniques for screening. TBI will not appear on an X-Ray, MRI, or CT scan.
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