Brain damage: types, symptoms, causes, treatment


Brain damage, also called cerebral injury, refers to any injury to the brain. This can be from trauma, like a car accident, or from a medical condition. Medical conditions that lead to brain damage include infections, certain illnesses, or lack of oxygen.

The severity and prognosis of brain damage vary widely. They can be mild and without lasting impact, cause temporary incapacitation, lead to permanent impairment, or even be fatal. Falls are one of the most common causes of brain damage.

This article reviews the types of brain damage, their symptoms, and their causes. It will also examine how to treat and prevent brain damage.

SDI Productions/Getty Images

Types of brain damage

Brain injuries are classified into one of two types, depending on what caused them: traumatic brain injury (TBI) and non-traumatic brain injury (NTBI).

Traumatic brain injury

TBI is caused by an external force such as accidental injury or assault.

A concussion is a common TBI. It happens when your brain bounces around inside your skull following a blow. Although it’s considered a “mild” brain injury, that’s only because it’s usually not life-threatening. Some concussions are very serious medically.

Most of the time, a TBI affects a small area of ​​the brain, which means it affects a narrow range of functions. However, some closed head wounds can cause more diffuse damage that affects multiple areas and further disrupts your abilities.

TBI-related death

In 2020, more than 64,000 people in the United States died from traumatic brain injury. This amounts to approximately 176 people each day.

Non-traumatic brain injury

An NTBI is caused internally (from inside your body). Some causes are gradual while others are sudden. NTBIs are less common than TBIs.

NTBIs are sometimes called acquired brain injuries. However, this label can be confusing because it is also used as an umbrella term for any brain injury acquired after you were born, which includes both TBIs and NTBIs.

Congenital brain injury

Some babies are born with brain damage. (“Congenital” means “present at birth”). These can be inherited diseases, genetic mutations, infection, exposure to toxins during gestation, or complications during childbirth.


Symptoms of brain damage vary widely depending on the nature, severity, and location of brain damage.

Because the brain controls the rest of your body, symptoms can affect any system. They can alter how you physically function, as well as how you think, learn, feel, behave, and perceive the world around you.


Brain damage can have a big impact on your cognitive abilities. It refers to how you think about and remember information. You may have problems such as:

  • Confusion
  • Limited attention span
  • Memory problems, including amnesia
  • Problem solving difficulties
  • poor judgment
  • Inability to organize
  • Inability to understand abstract concepts
  • Altered sense of time and space
  • Lack of awareness of self and others
  • Inability to remember more than one or two instructions at a time
  • Forgetting how to perform simple tasks, such as brushing teeth or getting dressed

Communication disorders are also common. You may have difficulty with:

  • form sentences
  • Understand speech
  • Find the right words
  • Read, write and/or work with numbers
  • Slow and hesitant speech
  • Forget common object names


Sensory deficits are common after TBI or NTBI. They may include:

  • Changes in any of your senses (hearing, vision, taste, smell, touch)
  • Double vision, limited field of vision, impaired distance vision
  • Ignore objects on one side of your body
  • Loss of sensation or increased sensation in certain parts of the body
  • Difficulty knowing where your limbs are in relation to your body (poor proprioception)


Common physical symptoms of brain damage include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Decreased stamina
  • Weakness
  • Muscle spasms
  • Bad balance
  • Tremors
  • Poor co-ordination
  • Loss of bowel and/or bladder control
  • Changes in sleep and eating habits
  • Paralysis

Depending on the location and extent of the damage, you may have difficulty with certain physical skills, such as:

  • While walking
  • While eating
  • Grooming
  • Drive a car

Perhaps the most extreme physical symptoms of brain injury are coma (extreme loss of consciousness) or a long-lasting vegetative state (being awake but showing no signs of consciousness).

Behavioral or emotional

You may notice changes in your behavior, emotional regulation, or personality as a result of brain injury. Common problems include:

  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • The Depression
  • Rapid and extreme mood swings
  • Apathy (lack of attention)
  • Low motivation
  • Lack of inhibition, including inappropriate emotional outbursts, outbursts, aggression, and inappropriate sexual behavior

Your injury can cause changes that make social interaction difficult. For example, you may have problems with:

  • Understand and respond appropriately to social cues
  • Build or maintain relationships
  • Grasp the nuances of social interaction


There are several possible causes of brain damage.

The most common causes of head trauma include:

  • Falls: Falling down stairs, from a ladder, into the bathtub or even out of bed can lead to TBI. Falls cause nearly half of hospitalizations for head injuries.
  • Fire arms: In the United States, firearm injuries are the most common cause of death related to head trauma.
  • Sports, assaults or road accidents: Being hit on the head, falling, or experiencing a sudden impact can lead to TBI.

Common causes of NTBI include:


Treatment for a brain injury depends on several factors, including the type, severity, and location. You should always get immediate medical attention for a head injury.

Minor injuries are often treated at home. Moderate or severe brain damage often requires ongoing care to help you recover.

The first step in treating a sudden TBI or NTBI (such as a stroke) is to stabilize the person and treat any life-threatening symptoms. For NTBI, the underlying cause must be treated. This can include an infection, tumor, or disease.

From there, the healthcare team will assess the extent of the damage and the symptoms it is causing. Clinical tests may include:

Once the urgent treatment needs are met and the damage is fully assessed, the focus is on rehabilitation. This may include:

Does the brain heal?

The brain does not usually heal from damage like the rest of the body. Other areas of the brain may change to compensate for the damage. The brain is able to create new pathways as skills are relearned.


Not all causes of brain damage can be avoided, especially in cases of accidental injury or illness. However, there are steps you can take to protect your brain, especially during high-risk activities, including:

  • Always wear a seat belt in the car.
  • Never drive drunk or under the influence.
  • Wear a helmet during contact sports; skiing, snowboarding and skating/skateboarding; while driving a bicycle, motorcycle, snowmobile, scooter or any other motorized vehicle; and when you ride a horse.

If you are elderly or medically at risk of falling, consider the following:

  • Make your home safer by removing obstacles and installing guardrails and handles where appropriate.
  • Ask your health care provider if you can improve your balance with physical therapy or exercise.
  • Have your eyes checked annually and keep your vision correction up to date.
  • Use a cane or other assistive device to help balance yourself.

If you work in a high-risk environment, be sure to follow safety rules, such as wearing a hard hat or protecting against toxic materials.


Brain damage can arise from both traumatic and non-traumatic brain injury. Traumatic injuries come from outside your body (falls, car accidents, muggings) while non-traumatic injuries come from inside your body (infection, illness, stroke, lack of oxygen).

Symptoms and treatments vary depending on the location and severity of your injury. Some people recover completely within a few days; others need extensive rehabilitation and may still be impaired. Some brain injuries can be fatal.

A word from Verywell

Whether it’s a TBI or an NTBI, brain damage is scary. Remember that many can be treated and rehabilitation can help you regain lost abilities. Working closely with your healthcare team is important for your continued progress.

Make sure you and your health care providers address all of your symptoms, including your mental health. You may also benefit from participating in a support group, either online or in your community. In such a context, other people can offer you understanding, help and knowledge based on their own experiences.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can a person recover from a brain injury?

    Yes, many people recover from brain damage. Some injuries, such as a mild concussion, usually heal on their own within a few days.

    More serious injuries may require extensive rehabilitation, and some symptoms may be long-lasting or permanent.

  • How long can you live with brain damage?

    The length of life with a brain injury varies depending on the nature and severity of the brain injury. About a quarter of people with moderate to severe brain damage die within five years of a head injury. Some people continue to have a normal lifespan.

  • What are the signs of brain damage?

    If you suspect a brain injury such as a concussion, watch for:

    • Nausea and/or vomiting
    • Problems thinking or concentrating attention
    • Anxiety, nervousness, irritability or heightened emotions
    • Sensitivity to noise or light
    • Dizziness, balance problems
    • Sleeping a lot more or less than usual
    • Lethargy and fatigue
    • Memory problems, confusion
    • Vision problems, such as double vision
    • Headache


Comments are closed.