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U.S. Statistics

Traumatic Brain Injury Statistics

Every year in the United States, an estimated 2.8 million people sustain a traumatic brain injury (TBI). In those who survive TBIs, such injuries can range from mild to severe. While a moderate or severe TBI can be permanent and lead to a lifetime of physical or mental disability, even mild traumatic brain injury (concussion) can lead to chronic symptoms that may take months or even years to resolve.

Based on CDC data, between 2006 and 2014, rates of TBI emergency department (ED) visits increased:

  • 80% as a result of falls
  • 60% as a result of intentional self-harm
  • 58% as a result of being struck by or against an object
  • 24% as a result of motor vehicle crashes
  • 18% as a result of assault


What is Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)?

A TBI is an injury to the brain resulting from a bump, blow, or even a severe jolt to the head (such as in whiplash) that disrupts/alters normal brain function.

Brain injury can also result from a nearby blast or explosion, as is the case in many combat veterans and first responders (firefighters, police officers, paramedics, and other emergency personnel).

Additionally, any object that penetrates the brain tissue, such as a bullet or shattered piece of skull or other material, can cause a TBI. This differs from an acquired brain injury (ABI); ABI is an injury to the brain caused by a stroke, chemical or toxic poisoning, damage to the brain as a result of pressure from a tumor, lack of oxygen to the brain as in near drowning, or infectious diseases like meningitis.

A TBI can result from an open or closed head injury. In a closed head injury, damage is often unseen except for the typical bump or bruise on the head. Don’t be fooled, however; while there may be no outward sign that the brain has been harmed, a severe jarring or blow to the head can bruise the brain tissue and tear delicate blood vessels inside, especially in those areas where the inside surface of the skull is rough or uneven.

Rapid movement of the brain (think whiplash) can also lead to shearing of the white matter (axons) in the brain – these are the parts of the nerve cells (neurons) that connect cells to one another in the brain and throughout the spinal cord and body. This shearing of delicate brain tissue may be missed on MRI or CT as it is not detected on most imaging technology; the symptoms become obvious over time, however, as the effects the injury has on individual functioning can be widespread.

An open head injury is more obvious of course: an open head injury is especially serious when there is a penetrating head injury (meaning an object had penetrated the skull and entered the brain). These injuries tend to be focal as they affect a specific area of the brain.

Scope of the Problem

TBI is a major cause of death and disability in the United States. Recent data show that over 5.2 million individuals in the U.S. suffer from disabilities resulting from a TBI.

TBI-related emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and deaths increased by 53%. In fact, the CDC (2014) found that TBI was a contributing factor to a third of all injury-related deaths in the United States.

Such injuries can include impairments related to thinking, memory, movement, sensation, vision, hearing, or emotional functioning (e.g., personality changes, depression, anxiety). These issues not only affect individuals but also can have lasting effects on families, caregivers, healthcare providers, and communities.

While most TBIs are considered mild and will be diagnosed as concussions, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 155 people die from traumatic brain injuries every day. Those who do survive can face the effects of their injuries that last from a few days to the rest of their lives.

Based on their 2014 data, the CDC (2022) estimated that of the near 2.87 million TBIs:

  • Approximately 2.87 million (including more than 837,000 events among children) were treated in the emergency department and then released
  • 75% were diagnosed with concussion
  • 282,000 were hospitalized
  • 56,800 died from their injuries

In fact, TBI is so serious that it is a contributing factor in 30% of all injury-related deaths in the U.S.

source: centers for disease control and prevention (2022)

The Leading Causes of TBI

  • In 2014, falls were the leading cause of TBI. Falls accounted for nearly half (48%) of all TBI-related emergency department visits. The overwhelming majority of patients were children and older adults:
  • Almost half (49%) of TBI-related ED visits among children 0 to 17 years were caused by falls.
  • Four in five (81%) TBI-related ED visits in older adults aged 65 years and older were caused by falls
  • Being struck by or against an object was the second leading cause of TBI-related ED visits, accounting for about 17% of all TBI-related ED visits.
  • Over 1 in 4 (28%) TBI-related ED visits in children under 17 years of age were caused by being struck by or against an object.
  • A large percentage of TBI-related hospitalizations (52%) were due to falls and 20% were due to motor vehicle crashes; they were the first and second leading causes of all TBI-related hospitalizations.
  • In 2014, the leading cause of TBI-related deaths (33%) was intentional self-harm.

Traumatic Brain Injury by Age

Among TBI-related deaths in 2014 (CDC, 2022):

Among TBI-related ED visits and hospitalizations in 2014:

There were approximately 2.53 million TBI-related visits, including over 812,000 among children. Individuals in the 15-24 age range had the highest number of TBI-related ED visits, accounting 17.5% of those that year.

  • Hospitalization rates were highest among persons 75 years of age and older.
  • Rates of ED visits were highest for persons 75 years of age and older and children 0-4 years of age.
  • The leading cause of TBI-related ED visits varied by age:
  • Falls were the leading cause of ED visits among young children aged 0 to 4 years and older adults 65 years and older.
  • Being struck by or against an object was highest among those 5 to 14 years of age
  • The leading cause of TBI-related hospitalizations varied by age:
  • Falls were the leading cause of hospitalizations among children 0 to 17 years and adults 55 years of age and older.
  • Motor vehicle crashes were the leading cause of hospitalizations for adolescents and adults aged 15 to 44 years of age.

Traumatic Brain Injury by External Cause

  • Falls resulted in the greatest number of TBI-related emergency department visits (523,043) and hospitalizations (62,334).
  • Motor vehicle–traffic injury is the leading cause of TBI-related deaths. Rates are highest for adults in the 20 to 24-year age range.

Cost of Brain Injury

An estimated 1 out of every 6 Americans live with a TBI related disability – that’s approximately 5.3 million people. The economic cost of TBI to society is estimated at $76,5 billion, including $11.5 billion in direct medical and nearly $65 billion in indirect costs, including lost wages, productivity, and non-medical costs.

The costs of TBI include more than the monumental medical costs resulting from the injury itself. Costs associated with ongoing physical and occupational therapy, caregiver costs, not to mention the pain and suffering involved in trying to recover from a TBI. Too many costs involved simply cannot be estimated.

Could it be a Traumatic Brain Injury?

An alarming number of those who sustain concussion and go to health care providers are not properly diagnosed, and if they are do not receive the follow up care they should.

In one study, 56% of mild traumatic brain injury patients received no related diagnosis in the ED and yet were still found to have a documented brain injury.

Symptoms of TBI may not always present themselves right away, so don’t be fooled. If you have had a blow to the head, or even a severe jolt as in a whiplash type movement, watch for signs of possible TBI. While all brain injuries are unique, the type and extent of the injury to the brain will determine the symptoms.

TBIs, ranging from mild to severe, are typically categorized as one of the following:


A concussion is considered a minor brain injury. It results from a bump or blow to the head, or by sudden changes in movement, as in whiplash. Even though typically considered mild compared to other TBI types, a concussion can still cause substantial difficulties or impairment and can take months or even years to heal. The symptoms of concussion can include:

  • Headache or a feeling of pressure in the head
  • Temporary loss of consciousness
  • Confusion or feeling as if in a fog
  • Difficulty/slowness in responding to questions
  • Amnesia surrounding the traumatic event
  • Dizziness or "seeing stars"
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Delayed response to questions
  • Appearing dazed
  • Fatigue
  • Concentration and memory complaints
  • Irritability and other personality changes
  • Sensitivity to light and noise
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Psychological adjustment problems and depression
  • Disorders of taste and smell


A contusion is a bruise to the brain tissue, caused by breaking of small blood vessels inside the brain. Like bruising on the skin, the leaking blood vessels can cause swelling; if this happens, all kinds of problems can result, depending upon where it is located and the extent of the damage. A large contusion may require surgery. Symptoms of contusion, depending upon severity, could include:

  • Confusion
  • Tiredness
  • Emotional changes
  • Agitation
  • Memory loss
  • Changes in cognition, personality, ability to process information
  • Attention problems
  • Emotional disturbances
  • Difficulty with motor coordination
  • Numbness
  • Loss of ability to understand or express speech

Penetrating Brain Injury

A penetrating brain injury occurs when an object actually pierces through the skull into the brain tissue. Such injuries may result from a bullet, a knife or other sharp object, or bone and fragments from the object that hit the skull. Depending upon the extent of the damage and location of the injury, symptoms of a penetrating TBI could include:

  • Heavy bleeding from the head
  • Bleeding from the ears
  • Problems breathing
  • Seizure
  • Loss of bowel and bladder function
  • Loss of movement or feeding in the limbs
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Coma may occur after the injury

Diffuse Axonal Injury

This type of diffuse axonal injury (DAI) results when the head is moved with such violent force that the axons (nerve tissue connected to brain cells) are sheared or torn inside the brain. This occurs with Shaken Baby Syndrome, or by rotational forces such as someone in auto accident might experience. This type of damage disrupts the brain’s ability to communicate to other parts of the brain and body and can result in widespread brain damage that may or may not be permanent, depending upon where the shearing occurs and to what extent. Coma is also a possible result of DAI, and in some cases, it is fatal. Again, DAI symptoms depend upon the location and extent of the damage to the brain, and could include:

  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Drowsiness or fatigue
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Sleeping longer than normal
  • Loss of balance or dizziness

Levels of Brain Injury

The level of a TBI is measured using a scoring system. The Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) is the most common one used and describes the level of consciousness a person is displaying after a head injury. The scale measures eye opening response, verbal response, and motor response and is scored as follows:

Scores from each category and summed and brain injuries are then classified as mild, moderate, or severe. (In children, the Pediatric Glasgow Coma Scale (PGCS) is used as they are evaluated a bit differently.)


  • 4 = spontaneous
  • 3 = to sound
  • 2 = to pressure
  • 1 = none
  • NT = not testable


  • 5 = orientated
  • 4 = confused
  • 3 = words, but not coherent
  • 2 = sounds, but no words
  • 1 = none
  • NT = not testable


  • 6 = obeys command
  • 5 = localizing
  • 4 = normal flexion
  • 3 = abnormal flexion
  • 2 = extension
  • 1 = none
  • NT = not testable

Scores from each category and summed and brain injuries are then classified as mild, moderate, or severe. (In children, the Pediatric Glasgow Coma Scale (PGCS) is used as they are evaluated a bit differently.)

Mild injury – A GCS or 13-15. A mild TBI occurs when loss of consciousness (if it occurs at all) lasts for a few seconds or minutes. The person may only appear to be confused or disoriented. With mild TBIs, tests or scans may show no injury to the brain, although this is not always the case, so patients and caretakers must remain vigilant following a TBI. Doctors will only diagnose TBI when there is a change in function or mental status at or immediately following the injury; if this is the case, concussion will be the diagnosis.

Moderate injury – A GCS of 9-12. A moderate TBI is if the patient loses consciousness for several minutes to several hours. Confusion can last from days to weeks. With a moderate TBI, other complications (cognitive, physiological, behavioral impairments) can last for months and could be permanent. Often, follow up treatment programs/therapy will be needed to address these complications.

Severe brain injury – A GCS of 8 or less. Severe TBIs often result open head injuries or ones where the skull has been crushed. Penetrating wounds to the skull and brain can also cause this type of TBI, but closed head injuries can also result in a severe TBI. This level of injury to the brain is life-threatening and patients seldom return to the life that they had before the injury as a wide range of functional changes result, affecting cognition (thinking), sensation, language, and emotions.

Living with Concussion

While medical providers may describe a concussion in terms of “only” a mild brain injury, that is because they are not typically life threatening, not because it is something to be ignored. Symptoms may not show up immediately, and some of the signs of concussion can be subtle. Subjective complaints of sleep disturbances, for example, have been reported in 70% of TBI outpatients (Brain Trauma Foundation, 2022; Chesnut et al., 1999).

Members of the armed forces are particularly plagued by concussion as these account for the majority of TBIs reported by military personnel. Using 2013 data, some 83% reported some type of brain trauma, and even if more than one type of brain injury was sustained, only the most severe went on his or her record.

It is important to understand that even “mild” head injuries (concussions) such as those sustained in service, on the job, in sports, or other activities, can result in cumulative neurological and cognitive deficits over time. Research shows that those who sustained TBI are increased risk for developing more serious problems later on, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Additionally, it is estimated the risk of experiencing stroke after TBI is 10 times greater in TBI patients than in those who never sustained a TBI.

Repeated concussions, especially when they occur one after another within a short period of time, can be catastrophic and/or fatal. That’s because the effect of any type of trauma to the brain, even once the symptoms seem to go away, can still be there. The initial swelling, bruising, and tearing of blood vessels that cause the initial confusion, headache, visual disturbance, nausea, and other symptoms, can take weeks, months, or even years to heal – especially if the brain is continually reinjured again and again.

These types of injuries typically occur in athletes, especially football players. Young athletes and children who play sports are especially vulnerable as their young brains are still developing. In fact, the brain is not fully developed until around 25 years of age, so taking care of your child or teen’s brain at this stage is vital. As TBI is a leading cause of death and disability in teens and you children, every parent and coach should know the signs of concussion.

Some of the more serious danger signs of concussion, while uncommon and rare, can result:

  • One pupil larger than the other
  • Drowsiness or inability to wake up
  • A headache that gets worse and does not go away
  • Slurred speech, weakness, numbness, or decreased coordination
  • Repeated vomiting or nausea, convulsions, or seizures
  • Unusual behavior, increased confusion, restlessness, or agitation
  • Loss of consciousness (passed out/knocked out). Even a brief loss of consciousness should be taken seriously.

While 80% to 90%
of concussions will resolve within a week or two, not all will.

When this is the case, living with concussion can certainly prove challenging. Research shows that children and older adults may be more susceptible to development of a condition called Post-Concussion Syndrome (PCS).

PCS is a complication of concussion recovery and is described as the persistence of concussion symptoms beyond the normal course of recovery. While the majority of symptoms tend to resolve within about two weeks, for example, in cases where they last longer than one or two months, PCS may be diagnosed. PCS symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of concentration and memory
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Blurry vision
  • Noise and light sensitivity
  • Rarely, decreases in taste and smell

Protecting Young Brains

A new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that in 2017, an estimated 15% of high school students experienced 1 or more concussions, and 6% experienced 2 or more.

Further, the researchers of the report found that:

  • Overall, 9.1% of high school students reported 1 concussion, 3.0% reported 2, 1.0% reported 3, and 2.0% reported 4 or more concussions related to sports or physical activity during the 12 months before the survey.
  • Male students were more likely to report 1, 2, and 4 or more concussions than were female students.
  • Students in grades 9, 10, and 11 were more likely to report a single concussion than were students in grade 12, and students in grade 9 were more likely to report a single concussion than were students in grade 10.
  • Among students who played on 1, 2, and 3 or more sports teams, students reported having had at least 1 concussion 16.7%, 22.9%, and 30.3%, respectively.

Athletes who experience any type of bump, blow, or jolt to the head should be removed from the game and assessed for concussion.

If the athlete:

  • Appears dazed or stunned
  • Is confused about assignment or position
  • Forgets an instruction
  • Is unsure of game, score, or opponent
  • Moves clumsily
  • Answers questions slowly
  • Loses consciousness (even briefly)
  • Shows mood, behavior, or personality changes
  • Can’t recall events prior to hit or fall
  • Can’t recall events after hit or fall

Or reports that he or she has:

  • Has a headache or feels “pressure” in the head
  • Feels nausea or is vomiting
  • Is dizzy or displays balance problems
  • Has double or blurry vision
  • Is sensitive to light or noise
  • Is feeling sluggish, hazy, foggy, or groggy
  • Is having concentration or memory problems
  • Displays confusion
  • Is “just not feeling right” or is “feeling down”

If your child or adolescent has been diagnosed with a concussion, follow the proper steps to give his or her brain time to recover and heal. Also, parents, coaches, and school and sports professionals should know the Sports Policies and Laws when it comes to concussion in sports.

TBI Safety/Prevention Basics

There are many proactive measures you can take in order to help prevent brain injury.

Prevent falls. You can effectively reduce TBIs resulting from falls by practicing safety both in and outside of your home.

  • Protect very young children from falls by installing gates on stairs.
  • Keep floors and access to rooms free of clutter
  • Use slip resistant shoes
  • For elderly, install handrails in bathrooms and on stairways
  • Always remain aware of your surroundings; watch where you are going, use handrails when ascending/descending stairs, and keep your head up and alert to your surroundings especially when out in public places

Buckle up when driving. Always wear your seatbelt, even on short trips, and ensure that small children are properly secured in car seats that are the right size for their height and weight. Young children should ride in the back seat.

Never drive under the influence. Drinking, driving under the influence of drugs or prescription medicines impact your driving and decision-making ability.

Wear a helmet. Whether riding a bike, motorcycle, skateboard, or scooter, it is vital you wear a helmet or other form of safety protection for your head.

Athletes should take special care to use head protection when playing contact sports, skiing, snowboarding, or riding a horse.

On the job, take precautions as needed, particularly if you work in construction or other industries where head injuries are high.


Brainline. (2022). All about brain injury and PTSD.

DePadilla et al. (2018). Self-reported concussions from playing a sport or being physically active among high school students — United States, 2017/

Mayo Clinic. (2020). Post-concussion syndrome.

Concussion Legacy Foundation. (2022).

Brain Line. (2019). Facts about concussion and brain injury.

Brain Line. (2019). What every parent and youth coach should know. (2019). Types and levels of brain injury.

CDC. (2019). Recovery from concussion.

Healthline. (2019). Understanding brain injury.

Winchester Hospital. (2020). Penetrating brain injury.

CDC. (2021). Traumatic brain injury and concussion.

Brain Injury Association. (2022). What is the difference between an acquired brain injury and a traumatic brain injury?

Mayo Clinic. (2020). Concussion.

CDC. (2019). Sports concussion policies and laws.

TBI: Surveillance Report 2014.

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