Acquired Brain Injury

NCBD – Non-Congenital Brain Damage

Non-Congenital (Acquired) Brain Damage. Acquired brain damage can occur as a result of a physical disorder or a trauma to the head that impairs brain function. Causes of acquired brain damage include disease, poisoning, substance abuse, car accidents and assaults. Conditions associated with acquired brain damage include Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and dementia.

One of the most common causes of non-congenital brain damage is traumatic brain injury, or brain injury sustained from a sudden, external force that disrupts or alters normal brain function. Traumatic brain injury is usually caused by impact, violent shaking or both. This can be the result of a sudden blow to the head, which causes the brain to collide violently with the inside of the skull. In other instances, an object, such as a bullet, may penetrate brain tissue and cause traumatic brain injury. Non-traumatic acquired brain injury can be caused by a stroke or other condition leading to an insufficient supply of oxygen to the brain. Any of these events can destroy precious brain cells, thereby disrupting normal emotional, sensory and cognitive behaviours.

Signs of Brain Damage

Brain damage symptoms depend on the cause of the damage. Non-congenital brain damage (including damage caused by traumatic brain injuries) can have a variety of initial and secondary symptoms, while congenital brain damage symptoms often remain the same.

Traumatic brain injury patients may have brain damage if they have initial symptoms such as:

* Persistent headache

* Seizures

* Inability to awake from sleep

* Slurred speech

* Numbness in the extremities

* Loss of coordination

* Anisocoria (different sized pupils)

In addition, traumatic brain injury patients may experience secondary symptoms weeks, months, or years after the incident. These symptoms can include:

* Slowed thinking

* Inattention

* Impaired memory

* Depression

* Irritability

* Disturbed sleep

Younger children with traumatic brain injury may show symptoms such as persistent crying, refusal to eat or nurse, and inability to be consoled.

Diagnosing Brain Damage

Congenital brain damage is diagnosed after thorough physical examinations, blood testing, and imaging studies, such as computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.

Doctors use blood tests to identify any chromosomal abnormalities. Physical examination helps a doctor identify any physical deformities that would affect the child’s development. In addition, medical technologies, such as MRI and CT scans help doctors determine the presence of brain damage. In some cases, congenital brain damage is diagnosed after parents notice irregularities in their child’s development of physical and/or cognitive functions, such as crawling and speaking.

With the progression of medical technologies, the future of prenatal diagnosis for congenital brain damage is utterly bright and promising. Advancements in ultrasound examination and maternal blood testing may help doctors to identify infections, chemicals, substances, and genetic defects that could impair foetal brain development. Acquired brain damage is diagnosed similarly to congenital brain damage. However, in addition to imaging scans, doctors use the Rancho Los Amigos Scale and the Glasgow Coma Scale to diagnose the extent of non-congenital brain damage and determine chances for recovery.

Brain Damage Treatment

Congenital brain damage treatment helps patients with neurological disorders manage their physiological or cognitive impairments. While there is no cure for congenital brain damage, many doctors prescribe therapies that help develop basic physical function and communication skills. Physical therapy develops voluntary motor skills that allow a person to eat, bathe or walk, while speech or cognitive therapy teaches communication.

Unlike congenital brain damage treatment, which helps patients manage their disorders, acquired brain damage treatment attempts to fix the injury and prevent further brain damage. If left untreated, many patients with acquired brain damage can experience life-threatening complications, such as brain swelling and increased intracranial pressure.

Intracranial pressure is the amount of force the brain, blood, and cerebrospinal fluid (which cushions the brain and spinal cord) exert on the skull. When an injury is present, the brain tends to swell, accumulate extra fluid which will increase in size and later on lead to increased intracranial pressure and brain damage.

In some situations, surgeons need to insert a catheter into the skull to relieve pressure and drain collected blood and cerebrospinal fluid. A surgeon may also drill holes into the skull (craniotomy) to relieve pressure. A less invasive option for patients is strong medication, including medications such as corticosteroids, which help reduce brain inflammation and swelling.

In addition to taking measures to control intracranial pressure, doctors sometimes perform surgery to repair skull fractures, stop bleeding or improve blood and oxygen flow to the brain.

Both non-congenital and congenital brain damage may require extensive and expensive medical care, treatment and therapy.