Seeing a loved one experience a brain injury is often heartbreaking and terrifying. When trying to learn whether they might recover, and what you can do to help them, you may hear doctors and nurses throwing around the terms “ABI” and “TBI.” Here are the basics of acquired brain injuries (ABIs) and traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) you should know to help you understand what’s happening with your loved one.
The Difference Between Acquired and Traumatic Brain Injuries
An acquired brain injury (ABI) refers to any impairment in brain function that is not inherited, sustained before or during birth, or due to a degenerative condition. There are two types of ABI:
- traumatic brain injury (TBI), which is caused by external circumstances (such as a blow to the head), and
- non-traumatic brain injury, which is caused by internal factors (such as toxicity).
Therefore, a TBI is a type of ABI—so both terms are sometimes used to refer to the same injury with different levels of specificity.
How Brains Are Injured
Our brains are incredibly complex and fragile organs. Unlike other parts of our body, brain cells do not regenerate: That means if they are damaged, they may never regain full function. Some traumatic brain injuries deform brain cells by stretching or compressing them. Non-traumatic brain injuries are more likely to cause harm at a cellular or intra-cellular level. Like all other parts of the body, the brain reacts to damage by disrupting normal functions. It may swell, or cells may release chemicals and substances that should not be loose in the brain. Though inflammation subsides eventually, chemical damage is permanent and often causes cellular damage or secondary cell death.
Are Brain Injuries Common?
Though it’s hard to know exactly how many Americans sustain ABIs each year because some go unreported, the number is over 3.5 million. That means a brain injury happens an average of once every nine seconds. Some of these injuries are mild and cause little to no lasting injury. Other patients permanently lose some brain function. Around 1 of every 60 people in the U.S. has a lasting disability due to brain injury.
Identifying Different Types of Brain Injuries
There is no “least dangerous” type of brain injury. Both traumatic and non-traumatic damages can impact critical parts of the brain.
What Causes Traumatic Brain Injuries?
TBIs can be caused by any impact or wound to the head that has sufficient force to displace the brain, even if only for a moment. The most common causes of injury are:
- Car crashes
- Falls (especially from height)
- Gunshot wounds to the head
- Objects falling on the head
- Violent assault
Most traumatic brain injury takes place within a span of a few seconds. After sustaining one, the victim may pass out and sometimes remains in a coma.
What Causes Non-Traumatic Brain Injuries?
Non-traumatic brain injuries are typically caused by medical problems or chemical damage. This includes:
- Brain tumor
- Brain hemorrhage or hematoma
- Lack of oxygen
- Encephalitis or meningitis
- Neurotoxin exposure
Most of these injuries occur over a time period ranging from minutes to months or build up to one incident. The patient’s decrease in brain function may therefore be either progressive or abrupt.
Spotting the Symptoms of Brain Injury
Because the brain controls everything our bodies do, an injury can disrupt any system. There are no “typical” symptoms to ABI because of this; the location and size of the damage determine the impact on each patient. If someone you love suffers a brain injury, you may spot:
- Physical symptoms, including headaches, trouble with coordination, and difficulty sleeping
- Emotional symptoms, including mood disorders, increased irritability, and outbursts
- Cognitive symptoms, including slower thinking, memory problems, and inattentiveness
Of course, many of these symptoms are more common after a moderate or severe brain injury[CD1] caused by a hard-to-miss incident. Mild brain injuries, also known as concussions, may not cause a loss of consciousness and therefore may go unnoticed. A concussion patient may experience:
- Dizziness, Nausea, and Vomiting
- Delayed Responses
- Sensory Sensitivity
- Changes to Mood or Personality
- Trouble Concentrating
Don’t Wait to Get Help After a Brain Injury
Even mild brain injuries can have lasting complications, and patients may need extended treatment. If your injury was caused by an accident or negligence, the responsible party may be liable. Brain injuries can change the lives of patients and their loved ones.
Especially if your loved on sustains an ABI, you need a safety net. Aside from the stress of big medical bills, you may have to care for a loved one, take over their duties, or go without their financial contributions. Talk to a lawyer now if you think you have an ABI or TBI case.