Brain damage occurs when a person’s brain is injured due to traumatic injury, such as a fall or car accident, or nontraumatic injury, such as a stroke.

Doctors more commonly refer to brain damage as brain injury because this term better describes what’s happening in the brain.

The brain does not fully mend itself the way a cut or other injury does in the body. Recovery and return to function can depend 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 caused by injury into two categories: traumatic and nontraumatic.

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:

Types of traumatic injuries
  • Closed head injury. This head injury 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 caused by a bullet, knife, or other sharp object. It’s also known as an open head injury.
  • Shaken baby syndrome. Also known as abusive head trauma, this occurs due to excessive shaking of a young child.

Doctors may also call a nontraumatic brain injury an acquired brain injury. Examples of nontraumatic brain injuries include:

types of acquired injuries
  • Anoxic/hypoxic. This is injury to brain cells due to lack of oxygen.
  • Brain infections/inflammation. Infections such as meningitis can cause brain injury.
  • Stroke. A stroke is caused by loss of blood flow to the brain due to a blood clot or brain bleed.
  • Tumor. This can include brain cancer and cancer-related illnesses.

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

Multiple contributing factors can lead to brain injury. Examples of the causes of traumatic brain injury include:

  • blast injury
  • blows to the head, such as from a fistfight
  • falls
  • gunshot wound
  • motor vehicle accident
  • shaking an infant

Examples of the causes of nontraumatic brain injury include:

  • choking
  • drowning
  • drug overdose
  • exposure to poisons or pollutants, such as carbon monoxide or lead
  • infection, such as encephalitis or meningitis
  • seizure

The brain is a complex organ. Each portion of the brain has different functions. The damaged area can determine a person’s symptoms. Brain swelling that affects the brain as a whole can also cause different symptoms.

symptoms of injury

Some general symptoms doctors associate with brain injury include:

  • affected balance
  • blurred vision
  • confusion
  • difficulty speaking clearly
  • headache
  • memory problems
  • seizures

Brain damage can cause personality changes as well as physical symptoms. Sometimes, a doctor may be able to predict what symptoms a person may have based on the area of the brain that was damaged. Some examples 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.
  • Temporal lobe. The side portions of the brain (underneath the ears) are responsible for memory, understanding spoken words, and hearing.
  • Parietal lobe. The midportion of the brain is responsible for much of the five senses, including sense of touch.
  • Occipital lobe. The back portion of the brain is responsible for vision and visuospatial coordination.

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

Symptoms may also depend on if the left or right side of the brain is damaged.

When diagnosing a brain injury, a doctor will first consider the person’s symptoms and the events that led to their injury. For example, they may ask if other people saw the person lose consciousness for a time period.

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 depend on the type of injury and the person’s symptoms. They can also vary over time, as doctors see the extent to which a person’s brain was damaged.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, an estimated 50 percent of patients with severe head injuries require surgery. This is true when there’s significant bleeding in the brain, a tumor, or foreign objects that are in the skull or brain itself.

A surgeon may place special tools to monitor a person’s intracranial pressure or to drain blood or cerebral spinal fluid. This can help reduce pressure in the brain and prevent ongoing injury.

If a person’s brain injury is severe or they’ve experienced other injuries to the body, a doctor may insert a breathing tube to support their breathing while their brain and body heal.

Doctors may also administer antibiotics to treat infections or medications to treat electrolyte imbalances.

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

  • occupational therapy
  • physical therapy
  • psychotherapy
  • speech/language therapy

Brain injury can take time and effort to recover. Some people may never 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 a person’s recovery.

Brain injury is devastating to a person and their loved ones. Several resources exist to provide support and education. These resources include:

where to find help

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

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the combined rate of traumatic brain injury emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and deaths, totaled 823.7 per 100,000 people in 2010.

The prognosis for an individual with brain injury depends on the severity of the injury and the person’s overall health prior to the injury.

Open communication with a person’s medical team can foster a realistic sense of prognosis after brain injury.