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Brain Damage: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments

What Causes Brain Damage?

When the brain is starved of oxygen for a prolonged period of time, brain damage may occur. Brain damage can occur as a result of a wide range of injuries, illnesses, or conditions. Because of high-risk behaviors, males between ages 15 and 24 are most vulnerable. Young children and the elderly also have a higher risk.

Causes of traumatic brain injury include:

  • Car accidents
  • Blows to the head
  • Sports injuries
  • Falls or accidents
  • Physical violence

Causes of acquired brain injury include:

  • Poisoning or exposure to toxic substances
  • Infection
  • Strangulation, choking, or drowning
  • Stroke
  • Heart attacks
  • Tumors
  • Aneurysms
  • Neurological illnesses
  • Abuse of illegal drugs

What Are the Symptoms of Brain Damage?

There are numerous symptoms of brain damage, whether traumatic or acquired. They fall into four major categories:

  • Cognitive
  • Perceptual
  • Physical
  • Behavioral/emotional

Cognitive symptoms of brain damage include: 

  • Difficulty processing information
  • Difficulty in expressing thoughts
  • Difficulty understanding others
  • Shortened attention span
  • Inability to understand abstract concepts
  • Impaired decision-making ability
  • Memory loss

Perceptual symptoms of brain damage include: 

  • Change in vision, hearing, or sense of touch
  • Spatial disorientation
  • Inability to sense time
  • Disorders of smell and taste
  • Balance issues
  • Heightened sensitivity to pain

Physical symptoms of brain damage include: 

  • Persistent headaches
  • Extreme mental fatigue
  • Extreme physical fatigue
  • Paralysis
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Sleep disorders
  • Slurred speech
  • Loss of consciousness

Behavioral/emotional symptoms of brain damage include: 

  • Irritability and impatience
  • Reduced tolerance for stress
  • Sluggishness
  • Flattened or heightened emotions or reactions
  • Denial of disability
  • Increased aggressiveness

How Are Brain Damage and Brain Injuries Treated?

Anyone who has a head or brain injury needs immediate medical attention.

A brain injury that seems mild -- referred to as a concussion -- can be as dangerous as clearly severe injuries. The key factor is the extent and location of the damage. Brain injury does not necessarily result in long-term disability or impairment. But the correct diagnosis and treatment is needed to contain or minimize the damage.

The extent and effect of brain damage is determined by a neurological exam, neuroimaging testing such as MRI or CT scans, and neuropsychological assessments. Doctors will stabilize the patient to prevent further injury, ensure blood and oxygen are flowing properly to the brain, and ensure that blood pressure is controlled.

Almost all patients will benefit from rehabilitation to assist in long-term recovery. That may include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Speech and language therapy
  • Psychological support

Can I Prevent Brain Injuries?

Most injuries that cause brain damage are preventable. Here are some rules to follow to reduce the risk of brain damage:

  • Never shake a child.
  • Install window guards to keep young children from falling out of open windows.
  • Install shock-absorbing material on playgrounds.
  • Wear helmets during sports or cycling.
  • Wear seatbelts in cars, and drive carefully.
  • Avoid falls by using a stepstool when reaching for high items.
  • Install handrails on stairways.
  • Don't keep guns; if you do, keep them unloaded and locked away.
  • Don't use illegal drugs.
  • Drink alcohol only in moderation, and never drink and drive.
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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD on September 20, 2014

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