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The Most Common Types of Brain Injuries

Riddle Brantley LLP   |  March 15, 2019   |  

The topic of brain injuries is more diverse than you may think. A number of types of brain injuries exist, resulting in varying levels of impact to the injured person. This brief guide to brain injuries will cover the types of injuries and how to identify each.

What Is a Brain Injury?

A brain injury usually results from another injury or illness that is severe enough to affect the brain, disrupt its function, and impact the individual. An inherited disease or defect or a birth injury can cause brain injuries – injuries such as these are present at or immediately after birth. However, most conditions referred to as brain injuries are not hereditary or birth-induced. We call non-hereditary or birth-induced brain injuries, acquired brain injuries, or ABI.

Acquired Brain Injuries (ABI)

Acquired brain injuries are any injuries to the brain that are not hereditary, congenital, or caused by birth trauma. ABIs can have physical, emotional, psychological, and cognitive effects on the individual. Most common brain injuries fall under the umbrella of ABI and its two categories.

  • Non-traumatic brain injury
  • Traumatic brain injury

Both types of ABI can affect the brain’s functions within a range of severity. The more serious the impact to the brain, the more evident the reduction in brain function and its associated changes to the individual. ABI can have temporary or permanent effects on the individual, though a series of brain injuries with temporary effects can eventually lead to more severe symptoms.

Non-Traumatic Brain Injury

Non-traumatic brain injuries encompass a category of brain injuries caused by some internal factor. Disease, pressure, and other sources of reduced brain oxygen can all cause non-traumatic brain injuries.

Non-traumatic brain injuries share direct causes – lack of blood flow to the brain, and hemorrhage in the brain due to clotting. Common causes include stroke, pressure from a tumor, infection, and poisoning by neurotoxins. Despite the name, non-traumatic brain injuries can be very traumatic for patients and families alike.

Traumatic Brain Injury

Perhaps the better known of the two types of ABI, traumatic brain injuries (TBI) encompass a range of injuries from an external force to the brain. TBI commonly results from a blow to the head. Sometimes, the blow results in a closed injury that does not penetrate the skull, such as a brain contusion, laceration, or cerebral hemorrhage. Other times, the blow penetrates the skull and causes an open injury that results in an epidural or subdural hematoma.

The force of inertia causes the other category of TBI. When a person’s head changes direction suddenly as the result of an explosion, whiplash, or other change in direction, the brain slams into the interior of the skull. Contact with the skull can produce hemorrhage or diffuse axonal injuries, which shear axon fibers from the brain cells.

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How Can You Tell if a Brain Injury Is Severe?

Any time a head injury occurs, a TBI is possible. However, how can you tell if the brain injury is severe or not? First, you should seek medical attention after any head injury. Consider this quick guide to the various factors determining severity.

  • Mild TBI (concussion)
    • Loss of consciousness under 30 minutes
    • Some alteration of consciousness
    • Post-traumatic amnesia lasting under 24 hours
    • Equal dilation of pupils
    • Negative CT
    • Seizure
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Temporary loss of balance, dizziness, disorientation
  • Moderate to Severe TBI
    • Loss of consciousness for over 30 minutes
    • Post-traumatic amnesia lasting over 24 hours
    • Persistent unequal dilation of pupils
    • Positive CT
    • Seizure
    • Persistent neurologic deficit

Again, it is essential to seek medical attention after a head injury. Symptoms that seem characteristic to a mild TBI can eventually reveal a much more severe TBI. A medical professional will perform imaging in order to determine the level of severity and the proper route of treatment.