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How to Spot Brain Injuries and PTSD After a Car Accident

Posted by Robert T. Karns | Dec 16, 2021 | 0 Comments

Most physical harm done by a car accident is fairly easy to spot. Scrapes, bruises, or more serious injuries like broken bones leave obvious marks. The effects of a car accident on your brain, however, often leave no visible signs.

It's important to get a full stock of your injuries after a car accident so you know how much compensation you can and should request. To that end, here's what you should know about the mental health concerns and physical brain damage that may stem from a wreck.

Signs You May Have a Concussion

Unlike more serious brain injuries that cause a lengthy period of unconsciousness, concussions may come with brief blackouts or no loss of consciousness at all. Especially if you think you may have blacked out for a moment or felt like you were seeing stars after the collision, it's a good idea to be vigilant for other concussion symptoms.

Symptoms of a Concussion

Concussions can cause a number of cognitive complaints, but among the most common are:

Concussion symptoms don't always appear right away, but they may persist for days or even weeks after the injury. Sometimes behavioral or emotional changes are the biggest indicators of a concussion. Therefore, if you feel “off” in some unspecified way after a car accident, it's worth asking whether you have a brain injury.

What If My Head Didn't Hit Anything?

Even if your head did not slam into your seat back, the steering wheel, or anything else during the accident, it's still possible you are concussed. Concussions are traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), which means they are caused by trauma to the brain and head. Sometimes this trauma comes in the form of a collision with a hard object. Others, the collision is between the brain and the inside of the skull.

Sudden acceleration or deceleration of the head is a known cause of concussions. When another vehicle hits yours, the force of its movement is added to your car, which can cause your body to accelerate away from the crash. When your seatbelt locks into place, the deceleration is just as strong and sudden. Either of these factors could be the cause of a concussion.

Is It a Concussion or Whiplash?

Whiplash, which is among the most common injuries in rear-end accidents, has many of the same symptoms as concussions:

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Struggles with memory and concentration
  • Irritability
  • Depression

Similarly, whiplash symptoms may not show up for hours or days after the accident.

This can make it difficult for accident victims to know whether they need to attend to a brain injury along with their whiplash. If you are experiencing one or more cognitive symptoms, it's worth talking to a doctor about your concerns. Especially because concussion symptoms may linger for weeks or months and interfere with your ability to work, it's important to get a diagnosis so you can tie your lost wages and other damages to the car accident.

Identifying Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Unlike a concussion, post-traumatic stress disorder is not caused by any sort of physical trauma—the name refers to the emotional trauma of being in a car accident. The shock and distress of being hit by another vehicle, especially if you thought the accident might be fatal, can leave mental scars. Intense feelings of fear and helplessness, when combined with this threat of injury, are some of the main precursors to developing PTSD.

What Is PTSD?

So what exactly is PTSD? And what are some signs associated with PTSD after a car accident? PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) develops after an event that has been highly traumatic. If an experience was life-threatening, such as a car accident, it is likely to experience signs of PTSD. The most major signs are difficulty sleeping, flashbacks, depression, and a struggle to focus on day-to-day tasks.

Signs of PTSD After A Car Accident

Only a psychiatrist can give you a formal PTSD diagnosis, which you will need if you intend to seek damages (it can also help you receive the proper treatment).

It's worth seeking an evaluation if you are experiencing:

  • Flashbacks of the car accident
  • Intrusive thoughts about the accident
  • Distressing dreams related to the accident
  • Anxiety or panic attacks
  • Reluctance or refusal to drive or travel by car
  • Reduced emotional response or absence of emotions
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Irritability and stress
  • Feelings of anger
  • Depression
  • Seeking isolation
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Hyper-vigilance
  • Feelings of avoidance
  • Fatigue
  • Suicidal thoughts or feelings

Some studies have found links between PTSD and chronic headaches or other pain.

Some patients present with high levels of hyperarousal (i.e., an increased startle response) and flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, or dreams about the accident, but do not display other symptoms. Clinicians have begun to refer to this condition as subsyndromal or partial PTSD.

Similarities Between TBI and PTSD Symptoms

PTSD and TBI both change the way your brain works, which is perhaps the reason they have some overlapping symptoms. They can also co-occur, making it difficult to determine which symptoms are caused by which condition. This can complicate your treatment or even result in a missed diagnosis.

Both concussions and PTSD can cause:

  • Depression
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Personality/behavioral changes
  • “Brain fog” or other cognitive difficulties

To make things more complicated, concussions might increase your risk of developing PTSD. If you are experiencing symptoms that can be caused by either condition, it may be worth getting tested for both.

Get the Help You Need After a Car Accident

Working with an attorney can be the best way to make sure you receive proper treatment after a car accident. Not only do we know how to help accident victims maximize their compensation, but we also can direct you to appropriate doctors if you do not know where to look. Brain changes, whether caused by physical or psychological harm, can cause debilitating symptoms if they are not treated correctly.

If you were recently injured in a car accident, we can help you learn more about your rights. Call Karns & Kerrison today at (888) 281-3100 for your free consultation.

About the Author

Robert T. Karns

Founding Attorney


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