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An acquired brain injury is brain damage caused by events after birth, rather than as part of a genetic or congenital disorder. These include strokes, brain illness and other brain injuries. They differ from degenerative brain conditions, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.

Some of the effects that a brain injury can have include:

  • Cognitive effects, which include memory problems, difficulty concentrating, poor planning and judgment skills, language difficulties, and a lack of problem solving skills
  • Sensory effects, such as altered visual/spatial perception, sense of touch and hearing, or vision impairments
  • Emotional effects, including being impulsive, risky behavior, depression/anxiety, aggression or paranoia
  • Physical effects, including severe headaches, seizures, poor coordination and balance, slurred speech, and being unable to move

We like to think of acquired brain injury as the umbrella term that all other brain injuries fit under. There are 2 main sub-categories that fit under the term acquired brain injury.

All types of brain injury are serious and can be life altering. Recovery can often look identical between different types of brain injury. The real differentiation in how the brain injury occurs.

Types of Acquired Brain Injury

Traumatic Brain Injury

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is caused by an external force that disrupts the normal function of the brain, such as a bump, blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury.

Common causes include:

  • Falls from heights as well as slips, tumbles down steps, losing balance
  • Being struck by/against something such as falling debris, being hit by a car, violence
  • Motor vehicle crashes, including motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles
  • Violence, such as domestic or gang violence, assault or shaken baby syndrome
  • Explosion/blast Injury, especially among military service members

Non-traumatic Brain Injury (Everything Else)

This type of injury is caused by an internal event, rather than an external force

Common causes include:

  • Stroke
  • Infections, such as meningitis or encephalitis
  • No oxygen or too little oxygen making it to the brain from caucuses such as near drowning, asphyxiation, strangulation or aspiration
  • Brain tumors
  • Exposure to toxins in cleaning products, pesticides, lead or mercury
  • Drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamines, inhalants or MDMA

How Common Are Brain Injuries?

Brain injury is one of the most commonly occurring, yet least talked about, public health issues in Texas. Survivors and their families often struggle with the cognitive, behavioral and physical consequences of their injuries.

Brain injury results in financial burden to the state. Because disabilities resulting from brain injury often are not readily apparent, brain injury is referred to as an invisible condition.

In addition, the number of people who are diagnosed with a brain injury each year is more than the number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer's, breast cancer, HIV/AIDS, prostate cancer, lung cancer, and ALS combined.

Signs and Symptoms of Brain Injury

The signs and symptoms of a brain injury can be subtle. Symptoms may even be missed as people "look normal" or "feel fine." Don't be fooled – know the signs and symptoms, and take brain injury seriously.

If someone's head or body has been hit or jolted, call 9-1-1 or go to the emergency room if they are experiencing:

  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Severe headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Blood or clear fluid draining from nose or ears
  • Weakness, numbness, or tingling in limbs
  • Trouble walking
  • Slurred speech or vision issues
  • Seizure

Sometimes, symptoms may not appear until days, weeks or months after the injury. Continue to monitor for signs and symptoms, even if you don't observe any immediately. See a doctor if you notice any of these changes:

  • Concentration and memory problems
  • Changes in work/school performance
  • Delayed thinking and understanding
  • Poor balance and coordination
  • Sleep disturbances or fatigue
  • Ongoing headaches or neck pain
  • Sensitivity to light and noise
  • Changes in personality and behavior
  • Irritability/Aggression
  • Depression/Anxiety

HHS has publications you can download to help you remember these signs and symptoms, or to share with others. You also can order printed materials.

Feeling Alone?

Join a support group for people with brain injuries and their families.

Find a Support Group

Professionals: HHS offers free training about acquired brain injuries.

Learn More