Brain Damage: Signs & Symptoms

Instructor: Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

The brain is central to the proper function of the entire body, therefore, damage to the brain directly effects the entire body and immediately becomes a 'big deal.' In this lesson, we will discuss the types and symptoms of brain damage; we will also explore how to prevent and treat brain damage.

What is Brain Damage?

Your brain is the control center of your entire body. So what happens if there's damage, or something wrong with the brain? Here, we'll learn about the very serious side effects that come from brain damage. But additionally, we will learn about the various treatments that are available after damage and how to prevent damage from ever occurring. So, if you're interested in how to maintain healthy brain function, keep reading!

Brain damage is any injury to the brain that permanently or temporarily decreases brain function. The causes of brain damage can be divided into two categories, traumatic brain injury and acquired brain injury.

Traumatic brain injuries occur when there is a trauma or force applied to the brain. During trauma to the brain, the brain is physically pressed against the skull, or the skull itself is damaged. This can cause bruising to the brain, or destruction of brain tissue. This is caused by a force applied to the head, such as when an athlete is hit in the head during a sport. Think of this kind of damage like getting a bruise or a broken bone in any another part of your body. The problem comes from the outside of your body. Below is an image of a person hitting their head against a surface, causing traumatic brain injury.

Traumatic brain injury resulting from a concussion

Acquired brain damage occurs when there is a problem with the cells inside the brain. This might happen if there is a brain tumor, or uncontrolled cell growth, inside the brain. The growth crowds out normal cells and prevents brain function. This type of brain damage is analogous to an infection, the problem comes from within the body. Below is an image of a tumor in the brain crowding out healthy brain cells, which leads to acquired brain damage.

A cross section of the brain with a tumor crowding out healthy brain cells. This leads to acquired brain damage.
brain tumor

Examples of Traumatic and Acquired Brain Damage

To understand the difference between traumatic and acquired brain damage, picture this story. Jimmy is running in the park, and he starts to feel dizzy and complains of a headache and blurred vision. His mom thinks he is just too hot or catching a cold. However, when she takes him to the doctor, the doctor says he has brain damage and needs to see an oncologist, or cancer doctor.

On the same day, Kevin is also running in the park. He slips on the playground and hits his head on the swing set. Kevin is bleeding and needs stitches. Additionally, the doctor is worried he might have a concussion. Which boy had which type of brain damage?

Jimmy had a brain tumor, which is a problem with the cells in his brain. Therefore, he had acquired brain damage. Kevin on the other hand, experienced a force to his head, which qualifies as traumatic brain damage.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Brain Damage?

Since the brain is the control center for the entire body, symptoms are widespread when the brain is damaged. Most appear as neurological problems, such as changes in vision, dizziness, headaches, sleep disorders, sensitivity to light, changes in perception, such as to hot or cold temperatures, and changes in mood. If these symptoms are experienced, a doctor may use an MRI, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, to take pictures of the brain tissue, as shown below.

Doctors can use a scan called an MRI to test for brain damage

What are the Treatments for Brain Damage

Unfortunately, there are few treatments for permanent brain damage. Physical therapy can help with balance or motor issues, and speech therapy can help if any problems understanding or speaking occur. Psychotherapy can help with emotional side effects and help patients cope with the changes in their life. For temporary brain damage, like a concussion, doctors will make sure the brain is getting blood and oxygen and that any bleeding stops.

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