Moderate to Severe Traumatic Brain Injuries Increase Risk of Death: Study

Only 80% of patients with moderate-to-severe traumatic brain injuries recovered their full independence after five years.

Any traumatic brain injury (TBI) can lead to serious side effects, which can greatly impact a person’s life. However, the findings of a new study highlights how moderate-to-severe head trauma significantly increases the risk of death, and lowers the likelihood of an individual being able to live fully independent five years after the injury.

The findings were published this month in the medical journal JAMA Network Open, involving a review of data on nearly 1,200 patients across 18 U.S. level I trauma centers between 2014 and 2018. Eligible participants were enrolled within 24 hours of suffering a head injury and followed up to five years post-injury.

Overall, 859 patients suffered a mild TBI, 188 suffered moderate-severe TBI (msTBI), and 152 suffered orthopedic trauma and served as controls for the study.

Traumatic Brain Injury Recovery Rates

According to the findings, patients who suffered a mild TBI or an orthopedic injury had stable and high rates of functional independence following their injury. However, functional independence rates were substantially lower for patients who suffered msTBIs.

Researchers found that 98% of individuals who suffered a mild TBI were independent by the end of the first year. However, that rate was only 72% for those having suffered a mild-to-severe head injury. This proportion increased by the five-year mark, with roughly 80% of msTBI patients becoming fully independent.

The findings indicate patients faced a symptom burden and reduced quality of life if they suffered a mild TBI or an orthopedic injury, however patients with moderate-severe TBI often face worse symptoms and outcomes.

Patients who suffered msTBIs had higher death rates at the one and five-year mark compared to those who suffered mTBIs. The death rate was nearly 6% for those with moderate-severe TBIs, and the death rate for moderate TBIs was about 2%.

Overall, patients who suffered msTBIs had an increased death rate. However, msTBI survivors displayed improved independence from the one-year mark to five years.

Traumatic Brain Injury Risks

Previous research has raised similar concerns about the long-term risk of death following a traumatic brain injury. Survivors of any type of TBI can face up to three times the risk of premature death compared to other patients, and the severity of the TBI worsens the outcomes.

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Prior studies have linked traumatic brain injury to an increased risk of suicide, and have indicated TBIs can increase the risk of suffering from Dementia later in life as well as increasing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease even after only a single blow to the head.

In 2021, federal researchers launched a public campaign to raise public awareness about TBI risks and symptoms. The campaign highlighted warning signs the public should be aware of in case of head trauma. Symptoms range from headache, confusion, dizziness, blurred vision, and behavioral changes. Recognizing the signs can help patients receive treatment early.

This latest study’s researchers concluded increased monitoring and rehabilitation is necessary to help improve outcomes and quality of life for TBI patients in both the short term and the long term.


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