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Traumatic Brain Injury and ME/CFS


Phoenix Rising Founder
I just got this e-mail from LK Woodruff. It's fascinating how close the symptoms are between traumatic brain injury and ME/CFS. Some in the medical community think ME/CFS is a psychological disorder simply because it has so many symptoms; no physiological disorder could produce so many symptoms they say. But check out what happens when your brain is rattled too much by an explosion. It's very similar to ME/CFS. At least traumatic brain injury is getting some research.

Common Symptoms of Mild TBI

  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Visual disturbances
  • Memory loss
  • Poor attention/concentration
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Dizziness/loss of balance
  • Irritability-emotional disturbances
  • Feelings of depression
  • Seizures

Other Symptoms Associated with Mild TBI

  • Nausea
  • Loss of smell
  • Sensitivity to light and sounds
  • Mood changes
  • Getting lost or confused
  • Slowness in thinking

These symptoms may not be present or noticed at the time of injury. They may be delayed days or weeks before they appear. The symptoms are often subtle and are often missed by the injured person, family and doctors.

The person looks normal and often moves normally in spite of not feeling, or thinking, normal. This makes the diagnosis easy to miss. Family and friends often notice changes in behavior before the injured person realizes there is a problem. Frustration at work or when performing household tasks may bring the person to seek medical care.

The impact of a moderate to severe Brain Injury can include:

Cognitive deficits including difficulties with:

  • Attention
  • Concentration
  • Distractibility
  • Memory
  • Speed of Processing
  • Confusion
  • Perseveration
  • Impulsiveness
  • Language Processing

  • "Executive functions"

Speech and Language

  • not understanding the spoken word (receptive aphasia)
  • difficulty speaking and being understood (expressive aphasia)
  • slurred speech
  • speaking very fast or very slow
  • problems reading
  • problems writing

  • difficulties with interpretation of touch, temperature, movement, limb position and fine discrimination


  • the integration or patterning of sensory impressions into psychologically meaningful data
  • partial or total loss of vision
  • weakness of eye muscles and double vision (diplopia)
  • blurred vision
  • problems judging distance
  • involuntary eye movements (nystagmus)
  • intolerance of light (photophobia)
  • decrease or loss of hearing
  • ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • increased sensitivity to sounds
  • loss or diminished sense of smell (anosmia)
  • loss or diminished sense of taste


Physical Changes

  • Physical paralysis/spasticity
  • Chronic pain
  • Control of bowel and bladder
  • Sleep disorders
  • Loss of stamina
  • Appetite changes
  • Regulation of body temperature
  • Menstrual difficulties
  • Social-Emotional

  • Dependent behaviors
  • Emotional ability
  • Lack of motivation
  • Irritability
  • Aggression
  • Depression
  • Disinhibition
  • Denial/lack of awareness

Injury to specific areas of the brain will cause certain symptoms

For example, injury to the frontal lobes will cause loss of higher cognitive functions, such as loss of inhibitions leading to inappropriate social behavior. Injury to the cerebellum will cause loss of coordination and balance. The brainstem controls things like breathing and heart rate, as well as arousal. An injury to this area could inhibit any of these processes.

Methods of Diagnosis

A detailed neurological examination is important and will bring out evidence of brain injury.
Brain imaging with CAT scan, MRI, SPECT and PET scan may be useful.
Cognitive evaluation by a Neuropsychologist with formal neuropsychological testing.
Evaluations by physical, occupational and speech therapists help clarify the specific deficits of an individual.

To read more, go to:



Decennial ME/CFS patient
Portland, OR
This reminds me that I've been meaning to write about this. One of the main reasons I've been particularly quiet online the last month or so was that my dad was hospitalized in July (including two weeks in a coma and intubated) with a traumatic brain injury. Upon release he had to stay with me in my tiny little studio as he's been homeless due to alcoholism. As I have a hard time taking care of myself most of the time, taking care of the both of us had me crashing quickly (though not as bad as I might have w/o CoQ10). But anyway...

What has been interesting for me has been noting the similarities you noted above, save for one BIG difference. When my dad spent his first full day out of the house running errands (all on foot, walking several miles), I thought he was going to be completely wiped out the next day. Instead it didn't phase him at all. He continued to improve. It reminded me of how having ME/CFS is so different from every other disease.

Post-exertional malaise is the key to this illness and we won't get to the bottom of this unless that is the focus of our research.


Phoenix Rising Founder

It is! Thank you for pointing that out! Post exertional malaise is not there! Wow.

It reminds me of an old school friend of mine; about a year ago he broke his neck in the fall - almost completely paralyzed - it looked like it was really over for him but he slowly improved. About six months later he was on crutches -but he wasn't just on crutches - he was walking miles on crutches. He was walking longer on crutches with his slowly healing broken neck than I could with ME/CFS.

Thank you for pointing that critical fact out. Never forget PEM ;)

(Good luck with your dad - what a situation! I hope he will find a place soon(?))