Brain Injury Basics


It is important to recognize that several definitions of brain injuries exist in current literature. The acquired brain injury definition is broader in scope and is often termed the “umbrella” definition as it includes traumatic brain injury.

Acquired brain injuries are typically brain injuries occurring after birth but not related to degenerative diseases, congenital or hereditary factors. They may cause temporary or permanent impairment(s). Impairments can include physical functions, cognition and psychosocial behaviors. Causes of acquired brain injury can include, but are not limited to the following:

  • strokes
  • traumatic brain injury (TBI)
  • substance abuse
  • hypoxia (oxygen deprivation to brain)
  • toxic exposures
  • infections
  • seizures
  • tumors

In basic terms, traumatic brain injuries are typically defined as blow or jolt to the head or body, or a penetrating head injury that disrupts brain function.  It should be noted that not all blows and jolts to the head result in a TBI. It should also be noted that you don’t necessarily have to hit your head to sustain a brain injury. Impairments from this type of injury can be temporary or permanent.

The severity of a TBI may range from ‘mild’—a brief change of mental status or consciousness, to ‘severe’—an extended period of unconsciousness or memory loss after injury. Most TBI’s that occur each year are ‘mild’, commonly called concussions.

Causes of traumatic brain injury can include, but are not limited to the following:

  • falls
  • motor vehicle crashes
  • struck by/against events
  • assaults
  • gunshot wounds
  • sports injuries
  • blasts
  • other injuries caused by trauma

TBI can cause a wide range of functional short- or long-term changes affecting thinking, sensation, language, or emotions.

  • Thinking (i.e., memory and reasoning)
  • Sensation (i.e., touch, taste, and smell)
  • Language (i.e., communication, expression, and understanding); and
  • Emotion (i.e., depression, anxiety, personality changes, aggression, acting out, and social inappropriateness).

TBI can also cause epilepsy and increase the risk for conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other brain disorders that become more prevalent with age.

About 75% of TBIs that occur each year are concussions.

Repeated concussions occurring over an extended period of time (i.e., months, years) can result in cumulative neurological and cognitive deficits. Repeated concussions occurring within a short period of time (i.e., hours, days, or weeks) can be catastrophic or fatal.

General Tips to Help Aid in Recovery:

  • Get lots of rest. Don't rush back to daily activities such as work or school.
  • Avoid doing anything that could cause another blow or jolt to the head.
  • Ask your health care professional when it's safe to drive a car, ride a bike, or use heavy equipment, because your ability to react may be slower after a brain injury.
  • Take only the drugs your health care professional has approved, and don't drink alcohol until your health care professional says it's OK.
  • Write things down if you have a hard time remembering.
  • You may need help to re-learn skills that were lost. Your health care professional can help arrange for these services.

If you or someone you know has a brain injury or needs helps navigating brain injury-related resources or information, BIAC can help. Visit Get Help Now for more information.

The above was adapted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. For original source information, please visit http://www.cdc.gov.