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A Comprehensive Guide to Brain Injuries, Causes, and Treatments

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The brain is a delicate organ susceptible to damage caused by disorders or events like trauma, nervous system diseases, stroke, sundown syndrome  and tumors. According to 2020-21 statistics, approximately 25,000 people aged 3 to 21 contracted traumatic brain injury in the United States. 

Some people with brain damage can live everyday life. However, many live with limitations and impairments, including difficulty focusing or processing thoughts, memory problems, and inaccurate saccades. In mild brain damage, changes can be short-term and restorable through the brain’s natural ability to rewire itself through neuroplasticity. In more severe cases, permanent disabilities and reduced life expectancy can befall an individual. Read on to learn about different types of brain damage, their causes, and available treatments to return to everyday life.

Types of Brain Damage

Brain damage typically refers to a disruption in the brain’s normal functioning. There are two types of brain damage: a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and an acquired brain injury (ABI). Let’s explore them further.

1. Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) 

TBI usually results from a forceful bump, jolt, or blow to the head, possibly leading to permanent or temporary impairment of cognitive, physical, and psychosocial functions, with an associated diminished or altered state of consciousness. Note that symptoms do not always involve obvious motor impairments. There can be hidden symptoms related to cognition and behavior, including headaches, sudden anxiety, and emotional outbursts. 

A mild traumatic brain injury is commonly referred to as a concussion and typically does not involve a skull fracture or brain bleeding. However, a visible skull fracture is often present in the case of a moderate to severe traumatic brain injury. Individuals may undergo an extended loss of consciousness and experience heightened symptoms such as headaches, nausea, convulsions, or seizures, as well as loss of coordination and numbness in their extremities. Repeated mild traumatic brain injuries can increase the risk of experiencing effects typically associated with moderate or severe injuries, including chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a harmful brain disorder.


The most common causes of a TBI are falls and accidents, such as vehicle collisions and motorcycle collisions. Other causes include violence, gunshot wounds, military attacks, or bomb blasts. 

Usually, adults aged 75 or older face a higher risk of TBI due to vascular changes associated with aging. These changes encompass alterations in the brain tissue’s membrane lining, heightened vulnerability of veins, and the hardening of arteries within the brain. Additionally, many older adults take anticoagulants as a precaution against ischemic stroke, which could lead to an elevated risk of bleeding. These combined factors amplify the likelihood of brain hemorrhages, even in cases of mild TBI. Besides, they are also at greater risk of falling due to muscle weakness, vision loss, and osteoporosis, which can cause TBI. 

On the other hand, people around 15-24 years old often sustain brain injuries due to vehicle accidents, resulting in fatal and long-term brain damage. Since our skull is about a quarter of an inch thick, a forceful blow to the head during an accident can lead to a TBI. 


To assess the extent and impact of brain damage, you must undergo neurological examination, neuroimaging tests like MRI or CT scans, and neuropsychological evaluations. Upon examination, medical professionals will suggest ways to prevent further harm, ensure proper blood and oxygen flow to the brain, and control blood pressure. Nearly all patients can gain from rehabilitation to aid in their long-term recovery:

MRI/CT testing
Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay
  • Physical therapy involves a trained professional practitioner prescribing exercise, hands-on care, and patient education. 
  • Occupational therapy assists in the TBI recovery phase by helping you adapt to the changes and everyday life activities (occupations)
  • Speech and language therapy help improve your ability to talk and use other language skills to navigate through communication challenges caused by TBI. 
  • Psychological support includes Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to address patients with traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). CBT’s central objective is enabling patients to grasp the underlying causes behind their behavioral responses and help rectify any negative thought patterns they may hold.

2. Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) 

An acquired brain injury (ABI) is any form of brain damage that occurs after birth and does not stem from hereditary, congenital, or degenerative causes. ABI occurs at the cellular level and is frequently linked to increased pressure on the brain, which may arise from a tumor or a neurological ailment, such as a stroke.

People with ABI commonly experience increased mental and physical fatigue, weakness, tremors, impaired ability to think and learn, forgetfulness, short temperament, depression, and slow or slurred speech. 

Brain injury stands as a prominent contributor to global mortality and disability, responsible for as many as 1.5 million fatalities each year. This condition appears to be the primary cause of disability for 150 to 200 individuals per million annually. Most adults under 40 are victims of ABI. 


Handling acquired brain injury (ABI) can be challenging as it disrupts normal brain functions, often with lasting effects. Reintegrating into the community can be difficult due to psychological and physiological consequences. Common ABI causes encompass trauma, infections (e.g., meningitis), cerebrovascular diseases (e.g., aneurysms), and tumors (Rabinstein & Wijdicks, 2006). Other causes include: 

  • Stroke: Stroke arises from a disruption in blood flow to the brain, often stemming from a blood clot or brain hemorrhage.
  • Tumor: Brain tumors, which can be benign or cancerous, come in various types, each inflicting varying degrees of damage.
  • Brain infections or inflammation: Brain infections, like meningitis, can potentially induce brain injury.
  • Anoxic or hypoxic injury: These injuries manifest when brain cells receive insufficient oxygen, leading to adverse consequences.


Acquired brain injuries can be treated with medication, therapy, and a rigorous rehabilitation strategy. For instance, medical professionals might prescribe stimulants such as Ritalin to enhance memory following an acquired brain injury or employ baclofen and Botox to address spastic muscle issues. Additionally, they may offer antidepressants like Prozac to mitigate depression and related emotional impacts.

Neuroplasticity, a remarkable phenomenon, enables undamaged brain regions to assume functions previously handled by damaged areas. Activating neuroplasticity involves engaging in repetitive exercises and activities. When a specific skill is consistently practiced, the brain strengthens its existing neural connections and forges new neural pathways.

rTMS, or repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation, is another treatment option as a neuromodulatory tool to regulate neural activity by harnessing rapidly alternating magnetic fields. It involves the transmission of magnetic pulses through the skull, stimulating activity within a specific focal cortical region. By administering these pulses repetitively, lasting alterations in neural activity can be achieved.

Professionals Who Provide Brain Injury Treatments

Treatment for brain injuries involves a multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals. Neurologists and neurosurgeons diagnose and treat brain injuries, including surgical interventions when necessary. 

Physiatrists oversee rehabilitation plans, addressing physical impairments and coordinating therapy programs. Occupational therapists assist patients regain independence in daily activities, while physical therapists help them restore mobility and strength. Speech-language pathologists help patients with communication and swallowing difficulties.

Psychologists and psychiatrists address emotional challenges, offering counseling and support for patients and their families. Social workers help navigate healthcare systems and access support services. Rehabilitation nurses monitor progress and provide education, while case managers coordinate care across providers and settings. Family members and caregivers offer crucial emotional support and assistance with daily activities.

Additionally, specialists in assistive technology assess patients’ needs for devices to compensate for impairments. The goal of this collaborative approach is to provide comprehensive care addressing the physical, cognitive, emotional, and social aspects of brain injury recovery. Each professional contributes expertise to tailor treatment plans to individual needs, ensuring the best possible outcomes for patients.

Treatment plans are often dynamic, evolving as patients progress through different stages of recovery. The involvement of caregivers and family members is integral to the rehabilitation process, providing ongoing support and encouragement.


The brain is crucial for coordination, motor function, problem-solving, and communication. You must safeguard yourself against unforeseen accidents and falls resulting in lasting brain damage. If you acquire a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or acquired brain injury (ABI), seek prompt medical attention and start essential medication and therapy to adapt better and cope with potential changes arising from the brain injury. Remember that encountering unexpected events doesn’t mark the end of the world; instead, it’s an opportunity to find a way forward.

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