What is a Brain Injury?

An acquired brain injury is a sudden and often accidental injury that results from bleeding, trauma, swelling, or shearing of brain tissue. An acquired brain injury does not include mental conditions present at birth or caused by a health condition, such as Alzheimer’s disease. The primary brain injury can be either traumatic or non-traumatic:

Traumatic brain injury

Diffuse traumatic brain injury
Traumatic brain injury (also called TBI) is caused by trauma to the head from a hard blow, fall, car accident, or gunshot or knife wound.

  • A closed head injury is when the brain is injured, but the skull is not broken. Common causes of closed head injuries are car accidents, falls, and hard blows to the head.
  • An open head injury is when the skull is broken or dented and the brain is injured. Loose bone fragments can put pressure on the brain. Common causes of open head injuries are skull fractures and gunshot or knife wounds.

Non-traumatic brain injury

Non-traumatic bleeding brain injury
Non-traumatic brain injury is caused by:
• anoxia—a complete lack of oxygen to tissues in the brain (such as from a heart attack or carbon monoxide poisoning). Anoxia causes problems with the cells chemical activity and then cell death within a few minutes unless oxygen is restored. Anoxia is rare. Hypoxia is a reduction of the oxygen supply to the tissues and is more common.
• brain infection; cancer or tumor
• toxic drugs or chemicals
• complications of liver disease, kidney disease, diabetes
• aneurysm or a stroke (a blockage or rupture of a blood vessel in the brain, also called cerebral vascular accident).

Causes of Brain Injury

Both traumatic and non-traumatic brain injury can result in the following:

  • A diffuse injury which affects several areas of the brain and can result from the brain twisting or rebounding (bouncing) inside the skull.
  • A focal injury which is limited to one area or one side of the brain.
  • A contusion which is a blow to the head hard enough to bruise the brain.
  • Bleeding inside the skull, called a hemorrhage, which can result from either a traumatic brain injury, aneurysm, or stroke.
How rebound brain injury happens

How rebound brain injury happens


Traumatic Brain Injury Booklet CoverBrain Injury: A guide for family and friends

Table of Contents

What is a Brain Injury?
How Bad Is It?
How the Brain Functions
Common Problems During Early Recovery
The Intensive Care Unit (ICU)
Understanding Coma
How Does an Injured Brain Heal?
How You Can Help With Recovery
• Where Will the Journey Go From Here?
How Will I Ever Get Through This?
Where to Go for Help
• Books for Families Coping With Brain Injury

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Brain Injury, Surgery, Anatomy

In the blink of an eye

In and instant, lives are changed forever. It is the very suddenness with which a brain injury happens that often leaves a family with little time to prepare for, come to terms with, or adjust to the changes that such a catastrophe brings. Not knowing what to expect or how to help can make the first hours, days, and weeks very hard for you, your family, and your friends.

You have just become a very important member of your loved one’s health care team. It’s normal for you to feel overwhelmed by all of the new information you are getting at a time when you feel as if you just can’t deal with anything more. But you have just become a very important member of your loved one’s health care team. To help your loved one the most, you must learn as much as you can about his type of brain injury and how to choose the best medical care for him.

If someone you love has had a brain injury, this booklet was written for you. It will help you understand what a brain injury is, what you may expect from your loved one during the early recovery process, and what you can do to help him, yourself, and others get through this very difficult time.

These pages answer many of the questions asked most often about brain injury. It can help you understand what is happening to your loved one, as well as prepare yourself and your family for the next few days and weeks. If you or your family still have questions after reading this content, please know that many have walked the same path with you. They will be able to relate some of the practical implications of the experience. Your doctor is always the best source for answers to the medical questions about the brain. Write down your questions. And write down your answers so you can refer to them later. There is comfort in understanding what is happening and what to expect. This understanding can help you become more comfortable working with the health care team and supporting your loved one’s recovery.

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