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Brain damage: Symptoms, causes, treatments

Brain damage, or brain injury, affects brain cells and is often the result of a head injury, accident or trauma.

Brain damage can affect a person's thinking, understanding, language skills and memory

There are two types of brain injury: traumatic brain injury and acquired brain injury. Both disrupt the brain’s normal functioning.

  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is caused by an external force, such as a blow to the head, that causes the brain to move inside the skull or damages the skull. This in turn damages the brain.
  • An Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) occurs at the cellular level. It is most often associated with pressure on the brain, for example from a tumour. Or it could result from neurological illness, as in the case of a stroke.

Both traumatic brain injury and acquired brain injury occur after birth. And neither is degenerative. Sometimes, the two terms are used interchangeably.

There is a kind of brain damage that results from genetics or birth trauma. It’s called congenital brain damage. It is not included, though, within the standard definition of brain damage or traumatic brain injury.

Most brain injuries cause focal, or localised, brain damage, such as the damage caused when a bullet enters the brain. In other words, the damage is confined to a small area. Closed head injuries frequently cause diffuse brain damage, which means damage to several areas of the brain. For example, major speech and language areas might both be involved.

The severity of brain damage can vary with the type of brain injury. A mild brain injury is temporary. It causes such symptoms as headaches, confusion, memory problems and nausea. In a moderate brain injury, symptoms can last longer and be more pronounced. In both cases, most patients make a good recovery.

With a serious brain injury, the person may suffer life-changing and debilitating problems. People who are in a coma or a minimally responsive state are examples of those who are likely to have permanent brain damage.

What causes brain damage?

When the brain is starved of oxygen for a prolonged period of time, brain damage may occur. Brain damage can occur as a result of a wide range of injuries, illnesses, or conditions. Because of high-risk behaviours, males between the ages of 15 and 24 are most vulnerable. Young children and the elderly also have a higher risk.

Causes of traumatic brain injury include:

  • Road traffic accidents
  • Blows to the head
  • Sports injuries
  • Falls or accidents
  • Physical violence

Causes of acquired brain injury include:

  • Poisoning or exposure to toxic substances
  • Infection
  • Strangulation, choking or drowning
  • Stroke
  • Heart attacks
  • Tumours
  • Aneurysms
  • Neurological illnesses
  • Abuse of illegal drugs

What are the symptoms of brain damage?

There are numerous symptoms of brain damage, whether traumatic or acquired. They fall into four major categories:

  • Cognitive
  • Perceptual
  • Physical
  • Behavioural/emotional

WebMD Medical Reference

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