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Brain Injury: Overview

What is a brain injury?

A brain injury is any injury to the brain that can result in a temporary or permanent alteration in functional ability. It is caused by structural damage to the brain or a change in normal brain cell functions and activities that define how the brain works.

These changes can affect cognitive and behavioral functions, as well as physical capabilities that allow a person to move and interact with the environment. Injuries to the brain may range from very mild, with little change in function, to the very severe, causing extensive functional impairment and thus requiring extensive care and hospitalization.

What causes brain injuries in kids and young adults?

Brain injuries can be caused in a number of ways. For example, a blow to the head (known as trauma) from hitting a windshield in a car crash, falling while skateboarding, or hitting your head in a soccer game can damage the brain. This is called traumatic brain injury (TBI) and is what most people think of as “brain injury.”

The brain, however, can be damaged in many other ways besides trauma, such as by drowning (lack of oxygen to the brain), stroke (bursting of a blood vessel in the brain), infection of the brain, a tumor (unregulated growth in the brain), and/or drug toxicity or chemical poisoning (abuse, accidental overdose or exposure).

What’s the difference between a concussion and a brain injury?

Concussion is a milder brain injury caused by an impact to the body or the head resulting in temporary changes in mental status like confusion, disorientation, loss of memory for periods immediately before or after the event, or brief loss of consciousness. Headaches, difficulty concentrating, memory problems and other symptoms may follow a concussion and are usually short-lived (but may last for many weeks or months in some cases). Usually no structural brain damage is identified.

In moderate to severe brain injuries, changes in brain function are more extensive and can be longer lasting and/or permanent. Identifiable structural brain damage is common.

Who gets brain injuries?

A brain injury can happen to anyone, regardless of age, race, ethnicity or gender.

Helpful brain injury resources