Types of Brain Injuries

brain diagram

There are several different types of brain injuries:

  • Open Head Injury – An open head injury can involve penetration of the skull. In other words, an object goes through the skull and can injure the brain. Typically, the damage will occur in the area where the object penetrates the skull. Injuries can include a skull fracture in addition to brain damage.
  • Closed Head Injury – A closed head injury is exactly as it sounds – there is no penetration of the skull. Closed head injuries are common in car accidents, slip-and-fall accidents, and pedestrian accidents. Damages tend to be focal and diffuse – meaning, damage to the brain occurs at the point of impact and can affect every part of the brain. Many TBIs tend to be closed head injuries.
  • Deceleration Injury (Diffuse Axonal Injury) – These types of injuries occur because the brain is moving in the same direction as a person's body is moving, when the skull meets a stationary object. The brain moves at a different speed than the skull, and each part of the brain moves at a different speed than the other parts of the brain. When the brain is slammed back and forth inside the skull – like during a car accident – the axons (single nerve cells) within the brain's neurons are compressed, stretched, and sometimes even torn. Torn axons die and cause brain damage. Severe brain injuries usually involve massive axon and neuron death.
  • Chemical/Toxic - Chemicals can damage the brain's neurons as well and cause widespread damage to the brain. Types of injuries caused by harmful chemicals and toxins include carbon monoxide poisoning, lead poisoning, etc.
  • Hypoxia (Lack of Oxygen) – This type of injury can occur during many different types of accidents. If blood flow doesn't have oxygen, it can cause severe brain damage, and even make a person "brain dead."
  • Infections - Brain damage can occur due to an infection caused by viruses and bacteria, such as meningitis. Some dangerous drugs can cause these types of life-threatening infections.
  • Stroke – A stroke occurs when blood flow is restricted to an area of the brain or another part of the body. Sometimes, an artery or vein can tear, which can cause hemorrhaging in the brain – resulting in brain damage. The effects can range from mild to severe. Some stroke patients recover with rehabilitation, while others remain in a vegetative state ("brain dead"). Many dangerous drugs are known to cause stroke, and trauma from an accident can also cause a stroke, in addition to many other types of injuries.
  • Tumors – Dangerous drugs can also cause tumors to grow on or over the brain. The tumors can push on the brain and cause brain damage.

Mild and Severe Brain Injuries

Traumatic brain injuries are diagnosed as either mild or severe:

  • Mild TBIs – loss of consciousness and confusion/disorientation is less than 30 minutes; problems include headache, problems thinking and remembering, mood swings, attention deficits, and frustration – even though CT scans and MRIs may come back normal. Concussions are considered mild TBIs. Mild TBIs are often missed at the time of the injury, and 15% of people have effects that last at least one year following the event.
  • Severe TBIs – loss of consciousness is more than 30 minutes; memory loss is longer than 24 hours, and effects can range from major cognitive problems to coma. People who survive severe TBIs may suffer permanent damage, including limited function of the arms and legs, emotional problems, and cognitive impairment.

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