6 Common Types of Brain Injuries

A side cross section of someone's brain after an accident

A brain injury is one of the worst injuries anyone can suffer. While broken bones may heal and property can be replaced, a brain injury can impact victims for the rest of their lives. If you or a loved one has suffered a brain injury, you could be facing years of therapy, expensive medical treatments, and a greatly decreased quality of life.

Not all brain injuries are created equal. Some, such as a brain contusion, can be relatively minor; others are extremely serious and can lead to permanent disability or even death. Here are 6 of the most common types of brain injury experienced during personal injury accidents:


A concussion is the most common type of brain injury, occurring hundreds of thousands of times a year across the country. Also called mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBI), concussions can still lead to serious health issues and pain.

Concussions are generally caused by a blow to the victim’s head, and can bring on symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, headache, ringing ears, and blurred vision. Concussions are commonly caused by car accidents, when the head hits a hard surface inside the car.

Repeated concussions can lead to a condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which causes changes in mood and personality, dementia, and finally death.

Brain Contusion

A contusion is simply the medical term for a bruise, so a brain contusion is a bruise on your brain. Brain contusions can be caused by a blow to the head or a sudden jolt, causing your brain to hit the inside of your skull.

Most contusions heal on their own, but they can cause much more serious conditions like blood clots or bleeding. Contusion symptoms are generally similar to those of a concussion: nausea, blurred vision, vomiting, a headache, and the like.

Diffuse Axonal Injury

A doctor looking at an array of brain scans

During traumatic accidents such as car accidents, the brain can be forcefully thrown back and forth so quickly that the brain stem (the structure connecting the brain to the spinal cord) tears, damaging the brain’s connection to the rest of the body. This is a diffuse axonal brain injury, and it’s a severe form of concussion that can lead to seizures, migraines, memory loss, and collapse.

In severe cases, diffuse axonal injuries can cause coma or even death. However, even relatively minor injuries of this type require extensive therapy and rehabilitation to recover function.

Brain Penetration

An object that penetrates the skull and brain can lead to severe bleeding, a lack of oxygen, severe brain damage, and death. Penetration injuries are easy to identify: any blood oozing from the head can indicate the brain has been penetrated. Other symptoms include heavy blood loss, exhaustion, and difficulty breathing.

If you’re in a car accident and one of your companions has suffered a brain penetration injury, do not try to remove the object lodged in the skull. Removing the object can worsen the bleeding or damage the brain further, so it should be left to trained medical professionals.

Even if a victim survives brain penetration, they can still require repeated surgeries, high doses of antibiotics, and ongoing therapy to restore brain function.

Coup-contrecoup Injury

Coup-contrecoup injuries are so-named because the brain is injured in two places: the site of impact (coup) and the opposite side (contrecoup). Coup-contrecoup injuries are often caused by high-force impacts to the skull that cause the brain to slam onto the opposite side of the head. Accidents causing coup-contrecoup injuries include car accidents, blows to the head, falls, and assaults and other acts of violence.

Due to the intensity of coup-contrecoup injuries, symptoms can be severe and long-lasting. Survivors generally require intensive ongoing therapy and other expensive treatments, though prognosis depends on impact site and severity, victim age and brain health, and other factors.

Secondary Brain Injury

Also called acquired brain injuries, these are injuries that aren’t caused directly by the trauma of the accident. Secondary brain injuries can be caused by blood loss, lung or rib damage, throat or chest complications, and more, including

Medical implements on a desk in front of an MRI scan of a brain
  • Aneurysm
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning, lead poisoning, and exposure to other neurotoxins
  • Drug overdose
  • Electric shock
  • Encephalitis
  • Infectious disease
  • Meningitis
  • Metabolic disorders
  • A prolonged period with insufficient oxygen, for example while drowning, choking, or due to smoke inhalation
  • Seizures
  • Stroke
  • Tumors

In contrast to the other types of brain injury on this page, acquired brain injury is usually non-traumatic—though it can be caused by trauma. Acquired brain injuries do not include those that are hereditary, congenital, degenerative, or caused by trauma during birth. These injuries tend to result in a change in the victim’s brain’s neuronal activity, which can affect the ability of nerve cells to properly function in the brain.

The risk of secondary brain injury is a major reason why you should seek medical attention as soon as possible after any kind of accident or injury. Some brain injury symptoms can take hours or even days to fully present themselves, at which point treatment won’t be as effective. 

Any time you’ve been in a traumatic accident, you should see a doctor to be evaluated for hidden symptoms of brain injury and other injuries. It’s the best way to ensure your continued safety and health.

What causes brain injury?

A variety of accidents, negligent acts, and assaults can cause brain injury:

  • Medical malpractice, including incorrect medication or dosing, mistakes during surgery, or misapplication of medical techniques
  • Traffic accidents caused by drunk drivers, distracted drivers, semi trucks, aggressive drivers, and others
  • Assaults, such as domestic violence, violent crimes, and shootings
  • Slip-and-fall injuries
  • Blows to the head
  • And others

What to Do If You’re the Victim of a Brain Injury

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If you’ve been the victim of a car accident, assault, shooting, slip-and-fall, or other traumatic injury, you should see a medical professional as soon as possible to receive a prognosis. Medical treatment for a brain injury can be extremely expensive, painful, and traumatic, and if your injury was caused by someone else, you deserve compensation for your pain and suffering.

Call the experienced brain injury lawyers at Gordon McKernan Injury Attorneys for a free consultation about your injury and legal options. A dedicated lawyer will listen to your situation, and we’ll get started on your case right away. Give us a call at 888.501.7888 today to begin your path to healing.