What is Brain Damage? - Causes & Effects

Instructor: John Williams
The brain is a key organ in the nervous system, and it controls the functions of the body. Brain damage, then, can have major consequences on the way in which the entire body functions. This article addresses brain damage, including its causes and effects.


The brain is the primary organ of the nervous system, and it serves as the 'command center' of the body. Through the brain, organ systems are able to receive instructions necessary for conducting their activities and functions. Because the brain has this major duty, the health of the brain can have detrimental effects on the rest of the body. In this article, we will discuss the concept of brain damage, how it occurs, and the effects that it can have on other systems.

What is Brain Damage?

Brain damage is an injury or deterioration of the cells and tissues in the brain. Whenever the brain is damaged, the extent of the damage will be based on several things, including location, cause of damage, and intervention.

Location of the Injury

The brain has three basic sections, and injury to any of them can cause damage. The cerebrum is the largest section of the brain and is responsible for thinking, senses, and personality (among other things). The cerebellum is responsible for muscle coordination and balance. Finally, the brain stem is responsible for connecting the brain with the spinal cord. It has regions that control breathing, heart rate, and homeostasis (or internal stability). In short, different sections of the brain house different functions.

The Brain

Therefore, damage to those sections (location) may lead to issues with their accompanying functions. For example, the cerebrum, if damaged, may cause personality disorders, loss of senses, or trouble with thinking and learning. Damage to the brain stem, on the other hand, may lead to breathing issues, paralysis, and even death. Location is a very important factor in the development of brain damage.

Causes of Brain Damage

Brain damage can be caused by several things. First, physical damage to the brain can cause major issues in how the brain functions. Take, for example, the injuries sustained in contact sports, such as football. When players are hit, they become susceptible to concussions (physically-induced changes in the brain). These physical forces can lead to changes in how the brain functions if those tissues are damaged irreversibly. This is commonly known as traumatic brain injury. Effects from these types of injuries typically include loss of muscle coordination, memory loss, depression, and in some cases, paralysis.

Example of a Concussion

Second, chemical damage to the brain can also affect the overall function of the brain. This is often seen when individuals take psychoactive (brain-affecting) drugs or medications. Examples of these drugs can include marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamines, and alcohol. These chemical agents can cause damage to the cells in the brain, which can range from minor to severe. Effects of this type of brain damage can include memory loss, hallucinations (seeing false images), loss of senses, and even death.

Finally, different diseases and conditions can lead to brain damage. For example, when an individual has a stroke (bursting of a blood vessel near the brain), it can cause damage to the area of the brain closest to the damaged vessel. Some of the common areas affected include the speech areas, visual areas, and motor (movement) sections of the cerebrum, which is why many stroke patients lose the ability to talk, walk, or see. Other diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease and encephalitis, can also cause brain injuries as a part of their progression. These forms of brain damage are known as acquired brain injuries.


As mentioned earlier, intervention (medical and psychological treatment) can play a role in how brain damage develops. Typically, when tissues within the brain are damaged, they cannot be repaired. Therefore, most brain damage is permanent, even if it is minor. However, the brain has plasticity, which means it can alter itself at times to accommodate damage and regain some function after an injury.

Medical intervention, such as physical therapy and surgeries, is able to reduce or correct potential brain damage if provided in a quick time frame after an incident. This helps the brain to take advantage of plasticity to reduce or stop the progression of brain damage. Counseling and psychological therapy may be able to provide help in preventing or reducing brain damage in the case of chemical and drug use. Finally, medication can be used to slow down the progression of brain injuries, and in some cases, even reverse the condition. In the case of mild injury, typically over-the-counter pain medications are sufficient for recovery. In the case of acquired brain injury, such as with Alzheimer's disease, stronger medications are used to reduce the progress of damage and to protect healthy tissues from becoming affected.

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