What is an Acquired Brain Injury?

Sometimes abbreviated to ABI, an acquired brain injury is an injury that has occurred after an individual was born. Meaning it was ‘acquired’ by external means rather than something that was inherited genetically prior to birth. An acquired brain injury often comes alongside symptoms that could impact an individual’s behaviour, thoughts and emotional state.

What can Cause an Acquired Brain Injury?

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Acquired brain injuries are often associated with traumatic brain injuries. They may sound like the same thing but in terms of classing and injury have different meanings. Traumatic brain injuries are usually caused by physical trauma from accidents that take a toll on the head directly, therefore they fall under the acquired brain injury classification. Non-traumatic brain injuries also fall under this description, these are an acquired brain injuries caused by any other external or internal sources, such as brain tumours, stroke, infections, poisoning, hypoxia, ischemia, encephalopathy or substance abuse).


While treatment is available for nearly all of the different symptoms associated with an acquired brain injury, they can affect every sufferer in different ways. No two people are affected in the same way and this can be incredibly traumatic for the sufferer and those around them. The brain, through the central nervous system controls every bodily function we have. It is also the central processing unit for all of our thoughts, be they conscious or unconscious. Acquiring a brain injury can turn this upside-down, impacting potentially any of the jobs we need our brain is to do. Naturally his can manifest in every aspect of a person’s daily life, making the overall effects of an acquired brain injury incredibly hard to predict. Sadly this means treatment is often a reactionary path rather than a preventive one.

What are some of the Symptoms?

Physical symptoms are many, from headaches to difficulties with mobility.

An acquired brain injury can have many cognitive symptoms but it can also impact a person emotionally and physically. People usually associate brain injuries with only cognitive symptoms, but the emotional and physical ones can be just as devastating. All three of these can also bleed into each other, for example; an individual adjusting to life with a brain injury from a physical accident may be having headaches and may have lost the ability to keep their job.  From this they can suffer untold stress and grief, causing their mental health to also deteriorate. This in turn can lead to emotional distress and eventually illnesses such as depression. Sadly, emotional, cognitive and physical symptoms of an acquired brain injury do often have a symbiotic relationship with each other. This means sufferers rarely only develop just one, and the others are compounded by each other.

In regards to cognitive symptoms, memory loss is one of the most common. In more serious cases this can result in early onset dementia for the victim. Someone suffering from the cognitive effects of an acquired brain injury may also become forgetful and may find it hard to concentrate and remain ‘present’. This is no reflection on the intelligence of the sufferer, something victims of ABIs often struggle to get across to others when their symptoms become apparent.

As mentioned above mental illnesses are not necessarily a symptom of an acquired brain injury but they can become a byproduct later. Where not directly caused by the injury itself, emotional difficulties are to be expected by many sufferers of brain injuries as they adapt to the changes in their life. Depression, anxiety, loneliness, angry outbursts, difficulty controlling impulses and an overall struggle to express oneself, can lead to a variety of diagnoses and recognised mental conditions. We all have different levels of self-esteem to begin with but those of us who may have lower self esteem then others are probably more susceptible to the difficulties described above in the wake of an acquired brain injury. Problems with employment, marital concerns and changing friendships also contribute to the above.


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Trauma Injuries to Illness


Where the majority of acquired brain injuries are indeed caused from trauma, these above symptoms also apply to those indirect causes of ABIs. Infections are a major cause of acquired brain injuries and can attack the brain slowly from previous problems that arose in other areas of the body. When a body part gets infected it needs to be treated quickly otherwise the infection can spread to the blood and eventually the brain. Infections can also lower the body’s immune system making it susceptible to other internal and external problems. An infection can cause the brain to swell and this can leave permanent damage, leading to the symptoms above.


Just like the unique and unpredictable symptoms associated with an acquired brain injury, treatment can also be tricky to apply. Naturally it depends on the injury, how it was acquired, the severity and how the person is affected. Some symptoms only manifest some time later. Others can strike instantly but may ease off over time. When a person acquires a brain injury, through trauma or other means, the priority is their initial treatment before the long-term rehabilitation that follows. This allows medical professionals to test the patient to see if they are showing any early signs of symptoms, if caught early this can lessen the effects over time. The problem is the extent to which an injury can impact a human being is so vast that many of these problems can go undetected until it is too late. Other problems are so severe and require immediate attention, that another issue may be overlooked.


Medical treatments are improving all the time and many conditions associated with an acquired brain injury are indeed treatable. Of course this depends on the case, and brain injuries are incredibly challenging conditions to treat, but what is clear is that treatments are available and nobody needs to suffer without help. From new drugs, trials, physical therapy to just time and the will of the patient, brain injuries do not have to be life sentences. Medical science may never fully conquer them but every day they get closer to beating them on a case-by-case basis.


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