Facts About Brain Injury

Just as all individuals are different, all brain injuries are unique. Brain injury can happen to anyone at anytime, and it does. Every 23 seconds someone in the United States experiences a traumatic brain injury and over 5.3 Million Americans live with disability from traumatic brain injury.

This does not include the number of individuals who have experienced non-traumatic (acquired) injuries such as strokes, aneurysms, anoxic brain injury, which also impact millions of Americans. While the only cure for brain injury is prevention, brain injury rehabilitation can change lives.

The brain can receive several different types of injuries depending on the type of force and the amount of force that impacts the head. There are many terms used to describe types of brain injuries, severity of injuries and causes of brain injury.

Acquired Brain Injury

An acquired brain injury is an injury to the brain, which is not hereditary, congenital, degenerative, or induced by birth trauma. An acquired brain injury is an injury to the brain that has occurred after birth.

An acquired brain injury commonly results in a change in neuronal activity, which effects the physical integrity, the metabolic activity, or the functional ability of the cell. An acquired brain injury may result in mild, moderate, or severe impairments in one or more areas, including cognition, speech-language communication; memory; attention and concentration; reasoning; abstract thinking; physical functions; psychosocial behavior; and information processing.


Acquired brain injury takes place at the cellular level within the brain. Therefore, injury from acquired brain injury can effect cells throughout the entire brain, instead of just in specific areas as with traumatic brain injury.

Most symptoms of acquired brain injuries are very similar to that of traumatic brain injuries; however, there are some difficulties that are experienced more frequently or to a greater degree by persons with acquired brain injuries. These symptoms can include:

  • Cognitive impairment such as thinking skills, especially memory
  • Longer lengths of time spent in a vegetative state
  • Severe behavior problems such as psychosis, depression, restlessness, combativeness, hostility
  • Muscle movement disorders

Traumatic Brain Injury

Traumatic brain injury is an insult to the brain, not of a degenerative or congenital nature, but caused by an external physical force that may produce a diminished or altered state of consciousness, which results in an impairment of cognitive abilities or physical functioning. It can also result in the disturbance of behavioral or emotional functioning. These impairments may be either temporary or permanent and cause partial or total functional disability or psychosocial maladjustment.

After an impact to the head, a person with a brain injury can experience a variety of symptoms but not necessarily all of the following symptoms. This information is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice or examination. A person with a suspected brain injury should contact a physician immediately, go to the emergency room, or call 911 in the case of an emergency. Symptoms of a traumatic brain injury include can include, but are not limited to:

  • Spinal fluid (thin water-looking liquid) coming out of the ears or nose
  • Loss of consciousness; however, loss of consciousness may not occur in some concussion cases
  • Dilated (the black center of the eye is large and does not get smaller in light)or unequal size of pupils
  • Vision changes (blurred vision or seeing double, not able to tolerate bright light, loss of eye movement, blindness)
  • Dizziness, balance problems
  • Respiratory failure (not breathing)
  • Coma (not alert and unable to respond to others) or semicomatose state
  • Paralysis, difficulty moving body parts, weakness, poor coordination
  • Slow pulse
  • Slow breathing rate, with an increase in blood pressure
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy (sluggish, sleepy, gets tired easily)
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Ringing in the ears, or changes in ability to hear
  • Difficulty with thinking skills (difficulty ?thinking straight?, memory problems, poor judgment, poor attention span, a slowed thought processing speed)
  • Inappropriate emotional responses (irritability, easily frustrated, inappropriate crying or laughing)
  • Difficulty speaking, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing
  • Body numbness or tingling
  • Loss of bowel control or bladder control

Levels of Brain Injury

Emergency personnel typically determine the severity of neurological injury to the brain by using an assessment called the Glascow Coma Scale (GCS) to. The terms Mild Brain Injury, Moderate Brain Injury, and Severe Brain Injury are used to describe the level of initial injury in relation to the neurological severity caused to the brain. There may be no correlation between the initial Glascow Coma Scale score and the initial level of brain injury and a person?s short or long term recovery, or functional abilities. Keep in mind that there is nothing ?Mild? about a brain injury?again, the term ?Mild? Brain injury is used to describe a level of neurological injury. Any injury to the brain is a real and serious medical condition.

Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (Glascow Coma Scale score 13-15)

Mild traumatic brain injury occurs when:

  • Loss of consciousness is very brief, usually a few seconds or minutes
  • Loss of consciousness does not have to occur; the person may be dazed or confused
  • Testing or scans of the brain may appear normal
  • A mild traumatic brain injury is diagnosed only when there is a change in the mental status at the time of injury?the person is dazed, confused, or loses consciousness. The change in mental status indicates that the person?s brain functioning has been altered, this is called a concussion.

Moderate Traumatic Brain Injury (Glascow Coma Scale core 9-12)

A moderate traumatic brain injury occurs when:

  • A loss of consciousness lasts from a few minutes to a few hours
  • Confusion lasts from days to weeks
  • Physical, cognitive, and/or behavioral impairments last for months or are permanent.

Severe Brain Injury (Glascow Coma Score 8 or less)

Severe brain injury occurs when a prolonged unconscious state or coma lasts days, weeks, or months. Severe brain injury is further categorized into subgroups with separate features:

  • Coma
  • Vegetative State
  • Persistent Vegetative State
  • Minimally Responsive State
  • Akinetic Mutism
  • Locked-in Syndrome