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Can a Cyclist’s Traumatic Brain Injury Elevate Risk for Behavioral Conditions?

Person with pain in his headA bicycle crash is sure to induce some feelings of anxiety or depression, but new scientific evidence suggests that traumatic brain injuries (TBI) — even ones considered to be “mild” by health experts — may have some correlation to the development of behavioral disorders, including anxiety, depression, and ADHD, months or years after the initial injury.

TBIs are among the most common injuries cyclists receive in a crash – so common that the CDC has released a guideline to emergency rooms on how to treat cyclists with TBIs. 

Symptoms of a mild TBI include:

  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Headaches 
  • Vision problems or dizziness 
  • Problems sleeping or sleeping more than usual 
  • Brain fog 
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Memory problems
  • Nausea or vomiting (in the beginning)
  • Change in mood, such as feeling more anxious, sad or nervous than usual 

When these issues arise after a crash, it might seem like a normal part of an accident, but a mild TBI, which is classified because a person doesn’t lose consciousness or does so for only a short amount of time, can have lasting health and mental health effects if not treated properly or watched closely over time. Put simply, a “mild” TBI can be anything but mild.

Research showing link between mild TBIs and mental health

Researchers in California recently reported that “sustaining a mild TBI significantly increased the risks of having a new affective or behavioral disorder up to four years after injury.”

Overall, the patient group, which included a cohort of children younger than 17 years old, had a 25% increased chance of developing an affective disorder and an 18% increased chance of developing a behavioral disorder.

Risks for affective disorders were reportedly significantly higher across the first three years after the injury, especially in the second year with a 34% increase. There was a 37% increased risk for behavioral disorders at years two and four after the mild TBI was sustained. 

Patients who tended to have the biggest risk were between 10 and 13 years old. 

Researchers studying adults have come to similar conclusions: that people who have sustained a mild TBI are more likely to develop a behavioral condition like anxiety. 

In a 2022 study conducted in Pakistan, researchers found that about 29.3% of  patients in their research study with a TBI had severe anxiety as compared to the healthy controls.

“Traumatic head injuries and their long-term side effects can predispose patients to a myriad of psychiatric comorbidities,” the researchers wrote. “In this study, we found definitive evidence that both anxiety and depression had a significantly higher incidence in cohorts that suffered from mild TBI.” 

Some research even shows that children who experience a mild TBI, or concussion, can experience psychological effects more than a decade later. 

Researchers at Monash University School of Psychological Sciences in Melbourne, Australia, said in 2017 “the study suggests that brain injury is in some way related to longer-term anxiety symptoms, while previously it was thought that brain injury only leads to short-term effects. 

“While in most cases people recover 100 percent from brain injury, a select few may go on to experience anxiety, depression, or other ongoing psychological effects,” lead researcher Michelle Albicini told Reuters. “More work needs to be done to help identify the risk factors for those people, and then how we can help them, to lessen the burden of brain injury.”

These studies, and others, are part of a growing body of evidence that shows the effects of a mild TBI can go beyond a headache or other seemingly mild symptoms, and they might not arise right away. So far, it’s not entirely clear what connects a mild TBI and anxiety that can occur much later but scientists are eager to learn more.

If you’ve been diagnosed with a mild TBI and are experiencing behavioral symptoms years later, it’s important to understand that there may be a correlation between the two events.

What to Do After a Bicycle Crash

The shock of a bicycle accident might overshadow initial TBI symptoms, and while you might think they’ll reside in a few days after the adrenaline wears off, it’s important to see a medical professional to rule out any serious injuries. 

Treatment for a mild TBI usually consists of monitoring symptoms, rest, and pain relievers, but it can be beneficial to see a doctor so that there’s a record of your injury and diagnosis. This will be helpful for any health or mental health conditions that form months or years down the road and for potential legal purposes. 

When you’re involved in a bicycle crash, keeping records of injuries is important, especially when a TBI and its symptoms can be as unique as the person. This injury has the potential to diminish quality of life, and being compensated appropriately will help overcome the challenges a TBI presents. 

Attorneys at Bay Area Bicycle Law are experts in personal injury law related to cycling, and consultations are always free. If you have questions about your case, call 415-466-8717 today.