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Fatigue After A Brain Injury

February 7, 2020

This is a guest post.

I am a lawyer and represent those who have suffered a brain injury. Through my charity work, I attend monthly meetings with brain injury survivors. Something I hear most often is their complaints of fatigue. ‘It is so much more than just being tired’ is the general consensus, and I can see their frustration at how their symptoms are so often downplayed as just being ‘tiredness’.

The brain is the powerhouse of our body, responsible for all our actions. So when it is damaged, it can cause a multitude of changes, both obvious and subtle. It can affect everything from your ability to perform daily tasks to changing your personality. Every case is different, and with advances in medicine and neuro-rehabilitation, significant recovery can be achieved. However fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of brain injury. So what is it, and what can be done to help those who are suffering?

‘Normal’ fatigue and pathological fatigue – the difference

‘Normal’ fatigue is exhaustion which can be quickly remedied with rest. It can affect anyone, is usually time specific and is caused by a particularly strenuous physical or mental activity.

Pathological fatigue refers to persistent, prolonged or chronic exhaustion which can limit the sufferer for hours or days. It’s debilitating, and can affect a person’s mental ability, not just physical capability.

Why does it occur after a brain injury?

There’s no definitive answer on what causes fatigue after a brain injury.

Certainly, damage to parts of the brain which control our ability to think, be alert and move is thought to play a big causative role. The degree of injury to the ascending reticular activating system (ARAS), thalamus, hypothalamus and cerebral cortex can all dictate the extent of fatigue suffered by survivors.

However, fatigue can also be caused, or worsened, by other secondary factors brought on by a brain injury. This can range from the neuropsychiatric effects of anxiety and depression, to fractured sleeping to cognitive impairments, which can affect processing speeds and memory. All of these can make it much more difficult, and more of an effort, to complete any daily tasks – leading to an onset of fatigue.


Symptoms of Fatigue


Fatigue affects everyone differently, however commonly brain injury survivors complain of:

  • Utter physical and/or mental exhaustion;
  • Loss of motivation;
  • Difficulty concentrating and thinking clearly;
  • Becoming overly emotional, anxious, irritable or impatient.

Effects of Fatigue

Fatigue is an all-consuming condition which can affect every aspect of your daily life. Often, it can come on suddenly or with little warning. The effects can be unpredictable, sometimes being short-lived and other times lasting days. Coping techniques also differ from person to person, unfortunately there is no one ‘fix’.


Some people find it difficult to commit to, or fulfil, plans. Others simply know that they can only do so much in a day, before they’re likely to suffer an episode.


This can cause not only difficulties in a person being able to do daily tasks, like shopping and cleaning, but can also lead to complications with relationships, social life and the ability for the person to work. Sadly, those who suffer fatigue can suffer from loss of self-confidence, a loss of independence and social isolation because they are simply unable to fulfil everything they want to, despite their best intentions.


Help from a Legal Claim


My job is to obtain compensation for adults who have suffered a brain injury, either through a medical mistake, or because of an accident or assault that was not their fault.


With a legal claim, clients have access to a team of medical and non-medical experts, all of whom are working to identify the client’s needs and how they can be met. This includes access to specialists who make recommendations regarding therapy, medical treatment, assistive equipment and aids and professional care to help those suffering from fatigue. The cost of this expertise and the recommendations will be recovered from the claim, so our client can focus on getting their life back together without having to worry about the cost of doing so.


Ipek Tugcu, Associate Solicitor at Bolt Burdon Kemp

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