The Mighty Logo

Can Traumatic Brain Injuries Cause ADHD?

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) can cause a wide range of symptoms that affect your thought process and emotions. Some of these symptoms include difficulty concentrating, irritability and trouble thinking clearly, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Symptoms from TBIs can last for days, weeks, months or even longer.

After experiencing a TBI in November 2019 when I was randomly assaulted while waiting for the subway, I had trouble getting work done in a reasonable amount of time. Before the assault, I would normally finish all my school and freelance work before 10 p.m. But after the TBI, I would often find myself working until 3 a.m.

Other relevant stories:
ADHD Eye Contact
Famous People With ADHD
How Does ADHD Affect Relationships?
What is ADHD?

My lifestyle was not manageable, so I went to see a neurologist in February. I was diagnosed with adult inattentive attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). My neurologist explained to me because of the cerebral edema (or brain swelling) I experienced due to the TBI, I may have concentration issues for longer than I expected.

To learn more about the connection between TBI and ADHD, clinical psychologist Dr. Marianne Trent spoke to The Mighty about how people like me may develop ADHD after TBIs. One possibility? It could be what area of your brain is impacted by the TBI.

The day after my assault, the area above my frontal lobes in the brain was visibly swelling. Trent said the frontal lobes “are involved in planning, concentration, initiation of tasks and the ability to not be too impulsive.”

ADHD has also been connected to issues in the brain’s frontal lobes. One study suggests the size of the frontal lobes could be the link between TBIs and ADHD, but the research is not conclusive. I did not have a brain scan since my assault, so I do not know how or if the size of my frontal lobes has changed.

In addition to having trouble with concentrating and completing tasks, another symptom people with a TBI or ADHD may experience is aggression. Dr. Trent said that after head injuries, people may “lash out at themselves or others” because it can be “incredibly frustrating to not be able to do things that you used to be able to do.” A 2016 study found that children and adolescents with ADHD may have impulsive aggression due to struggling to complete tasks and navigate social situations.

Whether someone with a TBI experiences short-term concentration issues or develops ADHD, finding skills to make sure you can complete your work and obligations is essential. Trent recommended setting reminders and to be mindful of your limitations.

“We’ve all got our phones with us these days, haven’t we? So we can plan reminders, we can plan to initiate our own tasks,” Trent said. I personally use the productivity app Todoist on my computer to remind myself of everything I need to get done.

More research needs to be done to understand the relationship between TBIs and ADHD, according to Trent. In my journey in recovering from a TBI, I have found that treatment for ADHD specifically has helped me manage my symptoms. But I still do not know if I will have inattentive ADHD long-term.

Getty Images/VectorMine

Originally published: December 17, 2020
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home