This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 02 table of contents.

Causes of Brain Injury

The brain can be damaged by accidents, tumors, or strokes. It can also be damaged by near-fatal drowning, heart attacks, choking, or anything else that cuts off the brain's oxygen supply. Penetrating wounds are one obvious source of brain injuries. They occur when a bullet or other projectile such as a spear, arrow, or sword penetrates the skull and injures the brain. The ancient Egyptians, who correctly inferred that the brain was the physical organ of the mind, knew the effects of penetrating injuries.

What are different ways the brain can be damaged?

Penetrating wounds are only one of the types of brain injury that provide information to neuropsychologists. Strokes, known to doctors as cerebrovascular accidents or CVAs , are also a common cause of brain injury. They can be caused by fatty deposits in the brain's arteries (atherosclerosis), by thickening and hardening of the artery walls (arteriosclerosis), by clots forming in a narrowed artery (thrombosis), or by a clot formed somewhere else in the body and carried to the brain in the bloodstream (embolism). Sometimes blood is cut off from portions of the brain when an artery wall balloons out (aneurysm) or bursts (hemorrhage).

What are TIAs?

Four out of five stroke victims suffer "temporary strokes" called transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) caused by a brief interruption in the blood supply. Symptoms include weakness or numbness of an arm, hand, leg, or facial muscle, difficulty speaking, blurry vision in one eye, deafness, loss of balance, sudden unexplained headache or abrupt personality change. A TIA usually lasts only a few minutes (almost always less than an hour) and the effects wear off quickly, so people tend to ignore them. However, it is important not to brush off the symptoms because about a third of TIA victims have a stroke within five years unless treated.

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