Brain injury

Some patients with a moderate to severe brain injury need to be cared for on ICU. This is because their injury may involve swelling, bleeding or fractures to the bones around and inside the head. In the short term, as swelling decreases, the brain function usually improves.

There are many types of brain injuries. They range from those a patient cannot recover from to injuries that a patient can completely recover from.

Common experiences

When a patient is recovering from a brain injury they may:

  • remain confused
  • find it difficult to concentrate (brain fog)
  • be easily irritated
  • experience changes to their personality
  • have symptoms of depression and/or anxiety

Neurological symptoms

The brain is a very important part of the nervous system (also called the neurological system). If certain parts of the brain have been injured then problems with the neurological system can occur. These symptoms are:

  • speech problems
  • swallowing problems
  • weakness in the arms and/or legs
  • balance problems

Recovery time

The brain is an amazing organ. Over time different parts of uninjured brain will start to take over the function of the injured brain. Recovery can take several months and sometimes longer. Most of the improvement will be in the first six months but further improvements can be seen over years. Recovery also fluctuates. It is common to have good and bad days.

Assessing your recovery and function

Brain scans are good at showing bleeding and fractures. They are not so good in predicting function. Assessments at the bedside are one of the best ways to assess your brain injury and recovery. These assessments are done by doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and occupational therapists.

Looking after your health in the long term

These are the things you can do to give your brain the best chance to recover:

  • have a healthy diet
  • get enough sleep
  • avoid stress
  • avoid smoking
  • avoid alcohol

Returning to work

Returning to work may be difficult. Your local doctor and the hospital social workers may be able to help with strategies to get back to work. Return to work is usually done by starting small and building up hours and tasks.

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Related topics

This topic was reviewed by an intensive care specialist in July 2022.

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