Brain damage can occur following a traumatic injury, such as a fall or car accident, or a nontraumatic, acquired injury, such as a stroke.

The brain does not fully mend itself the way a cut or other injury does in the body. Recovery and return to function following brain damage depends on the cause of the injury and the person’s symptoms.

This article will examine common types, causes, symptoms, and treatments for brain injury.

Doctors usually divide brain damage into two categories: traumatic and acquired.

Traumatic injuries

Traumatic brain injuries occur due to a blow, shaking, or strong rotational injury to the head that damages the brain. Examples of these injuries include:

  • Closed head injury. This head injury occurs when an outside force, such as a blow to the head, doesn’t penetrate the skull, but it causes injury and brain swelling.
  • Concussion. This injury causes impairment in brain function. It can be the result of a closed or penetrating head injury.
  • Contusion. This is a bruise or bleeding in the brain that’s due to a blow or jolt to the head.
  • Penetrating injury. This is a type of brain injury where a bullet, knife, or other sharp object penetrates the skull and enters the brain. People may also refer to this as an open head injury.
  • Shaken baby syndrome. This type of damage occurs due to excessive shaking of a young child.

Acquired injuries

Acquired brain injuries occur without a hereditary or degenerative cause. Examples of nontraumatic brain injuries include:

  • Stroke. Stroke occurs due to a loss of blood flow to the brain. This may be the result of a blood clot or a bleed on the brain.
  • Tumor. There are many types of brain tumors, all of which cause differing levels of damage. Brain tumors can be benign or cancerous.
  • Brain infections or inflammation. Infections such as meningitis can cause brain injury.
  • Anoxic or hypoxic injury. These injuries occur when brain cells do not get enough oxygen.

These are just some of the examples of the most common types of brain injury.

Any event that causes an impact injury to the head can cause a traumatic brain injury, such as:

  • falls
  • motor vehicle accidents
  • blows to the head

Just as there are many types of acquired brain injury, there are many causes. For example, any instance that results in a lack of oxygen or blood to the brain can result in an anoxic injury or stroke, and infections can have many sources.

Some common causes of acquired brain injuries include:

Drinking alcohol can cause a shrinking of the brain, known as brain atrophy.

Heavy drinking is a common cause, but moderate drinking can also lead to brain atrophy, according to a 2017 study. Moderate drinking is defined as five to nine medium glasses of wine per week.

Alcohol can also interfere with brain cell function and survival, which can have long-term effects on brain health.

In addition, the following alcohol-related conditions can all impair brain function and can cause lasting damage:

These conditions can result in impairment to your vision, muscular coordination, and speech.

Drinking alcohol can also increase your risk of sustaining a traumatic brain injury. The lifetime risk of traumatic brain injury for people who regularly drink can be up to four times higher than those that do not.

Learn more about alcohol and brain damage here.

The brain is a complex organ. Each portion of the brain has different functions. A person’s symptoms of brain damage will vary depending on the location of the damage.

Some general symptoms doctors associate with brain damage include:

Symptoms of injuries to specific parts of the brain

  • Frontal lobe. The front portion of the brain (underneath the forehead) is responsible for speaking, personality, emotions, and judgment. Damage to this part of the brain can lead to difficulty concentrating, personality changes, and impulsivity.
  • Temporal lobe. The side portions of the brain (underneath the ears) are responsible for memory, understanding spoken words, and hearing. Damage to the temporal lobe can affect some, or all, of these.
  • Parietal lobe. The midportion of the brain is responsible for much of your senses. Damage here can affect your hearing, taste, and more.
  • Occipital lobe. The back portion of the brain is responsible for vision. Damage to the occipital lobe can result in a loss of sight, or visual disturbances.

Injuries to the brain stem can be very serious and life threatening. The brain stem, located in the back bottom portion of the head, is responsible for breathing, heart rate, and sleeping cycles.

When diagnosing a brain injury, a doctor will first consider your symptoms and the events that led to your injury. For example, they may ask whether other people saw you lose consciousness. This will help doctors establish whether brain damage is the result of a traumatic or acquired injury.

They will also consider if the person is acting very differently from their usual behavior, or if the person is speaking and responsive to others.

Doctors will also perform other types of testing to determine the extent of an injury. Examples of these tests include:

  • Imaging studies. CT scans or other imaging studies can reveal tumors, bleeding, or other damage to the brain.
  • Blood tests. Testing for signs of infection and electrolyte imbalances can reveal the causes and effects of traumatic and nontraumatic injuries.
  • Brain evaluations. Doctors have developed a number of tests that target certain areas of the brain, such as memory, problem-solving, and concentration.

There are many potential causes of brain damage. Additional testing may depend on a person’s symptoms and type of injury.

Treatments for brain damage will vary due to the type of injury and the person’s symptoms. They can also change over time, as doctors see the extent of brain damage.

Around half of people with severe head injuries require surgery, reports the National Institute on Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Doctors will recommend surgery if there’s:

  • significant bleeding in the brain
  • a tumor
  • a foreign object in the skull or brain itself

After treating the most acute brain injury stages, doctors may recommend treatments such as:

  • occupational therapy
  • physical therapy
  • psychotherapy
  • speech or language therapy

Learn more about brain surgery here.

Brain damage is a medical emergency. In the United States, there were approximately 224,000 hospitalizations relating to traumatic brain injuries in 2017 and 61,000 related deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

However, the outlook for a person with brain injury depends on the severity of the injury and the person’s overall health before the injury. Both traumatic and acquired brain damage can result in physical and mental impairment.

Physical rehabilitation and psychotherapy may help improve a person’s outlook.

Brain injury can take time and effort to recover. Some people may not fully return to their cognitive function before their injury. Over time and with treatment, doctors can work with a person and their loved ones to identify realistic expectations for their recovery.

Brain damage can be incredibly difficult for a person and their loved ones. Several resources exist to provide support and education, such as:

A person can also ask their doctor or therapist about local support groups.