Brain Injury: Basic Facts

More than five million people in the United States live with the after-effects of brain injury. About 1.7 million people sustain new brain injuries each year.

Brain injury, also called acquired brain injury, is any damage to the brain affecting a person physically, emotionally or behaviorally. Brain injuries can happen at birth, or later, from an illness or a trauma, and are called either traumatic or non-traumatic, depending on the specific cause.


Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Falls
  • Violence or gunshot wound
  • Military attack or bomb blast

TBIs do not always include an open head wound, skull fracture or even a loss of consciousness.

Non-Traumatic Brain Injury (NTBI)

Involves no external force or action
  • Stroke (leading cause)
  • Lack of oxygen
  • Tumors
  • Other illness such as cancer
  • Brain infections or inflammation
  • Other infections

Level of Severity used to describe both TBIs and NTBIs:

  • Mild, moderate or severe
  • Level is primarily determined by the length of loss of consciousness,as well as memory loss
  • Does not describe the expected outcomes in the patient’s life


Physical symptoms of brain injury include:

  • headaches
  • difficulty coordinating balance
  • blurred vision in one or both eyes
  • milder vision problems
  • seizures
  • changes in sensory perception
  • trouble speaking and swallowing
  • changes in sleep patterns
  • lack of bowel and bladder control
  • changes in sexual function
  • motor impairment
    (trouble moving body normally)

Functional/Emotional Changes:

  • personality changes
  • difficulty forming sentences or choosing vocabulary
  • confusion
  • trouble communicating
  • difficulty with reason, focus and logic
  • memory impairments
  • depression
  • poor concentration
  • mood swings
  • limited attention span
  • disorientation
  • difficulty remembering conversations/forgetfulness
  • acting inappropriately

To adapt to these changes, it will help you and your loved one if you develop coping skills and find and use supportive resources (see resources section).

Also, be sure to share details about your loved one with the medical team so they can get a sense of his or her general intellect, rapport with people, and the things he or she liked to do before the injury/diagnosis. This information will be useful during the trauma care stay and later rehabilitation process to help re-establish the person’s life.