True or False? Seven Common Myths About Brain Injury
Categories: Living with Brain Injury
By Kellie Pokrifka, Member, Brain Injury Association of America Advisory Council
There is so much misinformation regarding brain injury floating around on the internet. Research in this field progresses every day, and we frequently disprove old theories. It can be difficult to keep up with the latest research, so let’s take a few minutes to dispel some of the most common myths about brain injury.
Myth: You can always see brain injury on CT and MRI scans.
CT and MRI scans are looking for brain bleeds, skull fractures, and other acute trauma. Not all brain injuries, and especially not concussions, will appear on these scans. A clear CT or MRI does not eliminate the possibility that you have a brain injury.
Myth: Two years after brain injury, no further recovery can be made.
Many people assert that recovery from brain injury is only possible within the first year or two. We now know that is incorrect. Following the first nine months of recovery, time is no longer an indicator of recovery. What matters after this point is finding the proper therapies for your symptoms. Doing the right activities 50 years post-injury has the same chance of recovery as receiving proper treatment nine months out. Improvements in your recovery are always possible.
Myth: Concussions are not serious.
Concussion is a form of mild traumatic brain injury (TBI). “Getting your bell rung” or “seeing stars” are never things to ignore – they are signs of brain injury. Concussions are described as “mild” brain injury because they not usually life-threatening, but this does not mean they are not serious. While many people will fully recover after two weeks, a percentage of patients will have lifelong symptoms following a concussion.
Myth: Individuals with brain injury don’t think about suicide.
Unfortunately, suicide is not an uncommon occurrence after brain injury. Nearly one in five brain injury survivors admit to suicidal ideation, plans, or attempts in the five-year period following injury. In the general population, that statistic goes down to one in twenty-five. Extreme life changes and organic changes in the brain after TBI can increase the chances of suicide. Because of this increased risk, it is important for medical teams and loved ones to address this subject. Being open and honest about this tough conversation can save a life and help connect your loved one with proper resources. If you need help, you can call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
Myth: Only athletes get concussions.
Concussions are not only a problem for athletes; concussions, like other TBIs, can happen anywhere, at any time, and to anyone. TBI is a common result of motor vehicle accidents, falls (particularly in elderly and child populations), military action or blast exposure, intimate partner violence, abuse, gunshot wounds, and other physical trauma.
Myth: If someone has sustained a concussion, you should wake them up every hour for the next day.
There is no need to keep someone awake for 24 hours after a concussion. Sleep is critical for brain injury recovery. If the person has been cleared by a professional for brain bleeds and acute trauma, restful sleep is safe and is crucial for recovery.
Myth: You should not be exposed to any stimulation that may trigger symptoms until you are completely recovered.
It used to be common practice to protect patients with brain injury by placing them in silent, dark rooms for weeks or months until symptoms subsided. However, the “rest and wait” approach is no longer an appropriate recovery plan and can actually worsen symptoms. Many experts even suggest light, controlled exercise within 72 hours of sustaining a concussion. As always, consult your doctor before making any changes to your recovery plan.
- “Brain Scans for Head Injuries.” Choosing Wisely, American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, 2018.
- Horn, Gordon & Lewis, Frank. (2013). Analysis of Post-Hospital Neurological Rehabilitation Outcomes. Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation. 28. E53-E54.
- Leddy, John J et al. “Exercise is Medicine for Concussion.” Current sports medicine reports vol. 17,8 (2018): 262-270. doi:10.1249/JSR.0000000000000505
- “Misconceptions about Sleep and Concussions.” ReThink Concussions, UPMC Life Changing Medicine, 2015.
- Schwartz-Lifshitz, Maya et al. “Can we really prevent suicide?” Current psychiatry reports vol. 14,6 (2012): 624-33. doi:10.1007/s11920-012-0318-3.
- Sports Medicine. “Concussion and Loss of Consciousness.” UPMC HealthBeat, 29 Aug. 2018.
This article originally appeared in Volume 14, Issue 1 of THE Challenge! published in 2020.