February 1, 2023

The differences between Acquired and Traumatic Brain Injury

Posted in Brain Injury, Injury
Female medical professional explaining a brain injury diagnosis to patient

If you know someone who has experienced a brain injury, whether as a result of medical negligence or an accident – perhaps on the road – you may be hearing a range of different terms and initialisms that are wholly new to you. Two of these could be ABI and TBI. So, what do they mean and what’s the difference between them?


ABI vs. TBI: definitions and differences

What is an Acquired Brain Injury (ABI)?

Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) refers to any type of damage to the brain that occurs after birth. This can include traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), such as those caused by road traffic accidents, assaults, falls and accidents at home or at work. A ‘non-traumatic’ brain injury – i.e. one that did not occur as a result of external impact/injury to the head - refers to trauma to the brain that has been caused by, for example, a stroke, infection or tumour.

ABI can lead to a wide range of physical, cognitive, and emotional symptoms, depending on the severity of the injury and the area of the brain affected, treated through a combination of rehabilitation and support services. 

Rehabilitation for a brain injury may include physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy, as well as cognitive and psychological therapies. Whereas support services may include assistance with activities of daily living, such as dressing and grooming, as well as emotional support and counselling. 

The extent of recovery from an Acquired Brain Injury is dependent on the severity of injury, location and extent of brain damage, as well as the individual's age, overall health, and support systems such as family or friends.

What is considered Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)?

Traumatic brain injuries are the most common type of Acquired Brain Injury and are typically caused by external physical force or a penetrating head injury. 

The brain damage from TBI can be focal (confined to one area of the brain) or diffuse (happens in more than one area of the brain), ranging from mild (concussion) to severe (coma or vegetative state). 

Symptoms of a mild TBI may include:

However if the brain injury is more severe, TBI symptoms may include:

  • loss of consciousness
  • seizures
  • and difficulty with speech and movement

The effects of a TBI can be short-term or long-term and can include physical, cognitive, and emotional changes. Some physical symptoms can include weakness, numbness, difficulty with coordination and balance, headaches, a change to your sense of smell and or/taste and sensitivity to light and sound. 

Cognitive effects can include post-traumatic amnesia immediately following injury, difficulty with memory, attention, concentration, problem-solving, slowed mental processing, impaired decision-making and word finding difficulties. There can also be concerns over reduced insight and mental capacity. 

The brain also plays a key role in regulating the body’s hormones. Damage to the parts of the brain that control the monitoring and release of hormones can cause a disruption in the body’s ability to regulate its internal environment. Hormone release can become increased or insufficient, causing a range of physical, psychological or emotional issues. 

Emotional effects can include mood disturbance, depression, anxiety, and irritability. 

TBI can also cause issues with impaired motivation and difficulties concentrating in certain situations that may involve crowds or noisy environments. Fatigue can also become a significant issue for people with brain injury, limiting cognitive and physical functioning. 

Brain injury can unfortunately also be a ‘hidden’ injury. Find out more about 7 hidden symptoms of brain injury.

Diagnosis of a TBI typically involves a physical examination and a neurological examination, as well as imaging tests such as computed tomography (CT scan) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. 

Treatment for a Traumatic Brain Injury will then depend on the type of injury that a person has sustained and can include; medication to manage symptoms, physical therapy to improve coordination and balance, and rehabilitation to help the person cope with any changes in cognitive or emotional functioning.

Different types of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is a broad term that encompasses a wide range of injuries to the brain caused by an external physical force. There are several different types of TBI, each with their own set of symptoms and outcomes.

  • Concussion:

    A concussion is a mild form of TBI that is caused by a blow to the head or a jolt to the body. Symptoms of a concussion can include headache, dizziness, confusion, memory loss, and fatigue. These symptoms may not appear until days or even weeks after the injury. Most people who experience a concussion, with the right care, recover fully within a few weeks.

  • Contusion:

    A contusion is a bruise on the brain that occurs when the brain collides with the skull. Contusions can be caused by a direct blow to the head or by a skull fracture. Symptoms of a contusion can include headache, nausea, vomiting, and confusion.

  • Diffuse Axonal Injury (DAI):

    DAI is a type of TBI that occurs when the brain is jolted or shaken violently. It refers to the shearing (tearing) of the brain’s long connecting nerve fibers (axons) that happens when the brain is injured as it shifts and rotates inside the skull. This type of injury causes damage to the brain’s white matter, which can affect the brain’s ability to communicate with itself. DAI usually causes coma and injury to many different parts of the brain. The changes in the brain are often microscopic and may not be evident on a CT or MRI scan. 

  • Penetration Injury:

    A penetration injury occurs when an object pierces the skull and enters the brain. This type of injury can cause significant damage to the brain and can be fatal. Symptoms of a penetration injury can include severe headache, loss of consciousness, and neurological deficits.

  • Coup-Contrecoup Injury:

    A coup-contrecoup injury occurs when the brain is slammed against the skull in two different locations. This type of injury can occur in car accidents when the brain is first jolted forward and then slammed back against the skull. Symptoms of a coup-contrecoup injury can include headache, confusion, and difficulty speaking or communicating. 

Different types of Acquired Brain Injury (ABI)

There are many possible causes of an Acquired Brain Injury (ABI), including a fall, a road accident, tumour and stroke. ABI covers all situations in which brain injury has occurred since birth, and includes Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) as well as tumour, stroke, brain haemorrhage and encephalitis, to name a few.

The effects are often very similar to those of TBI, but there are key differences that make treating and coping with ABI quite different.

  • Stroke -

    A stroke is an emergency condition in which there is a disruption of blood supply to part of the brain, leading to brain injury.

  • Brain aneurysm -

    A brain aneurysm is a swelling in the wall of a weakened blood vessel in the brain, resembling a blister. A brain aneurysm that is not growing or is not at risk of rupturing (bursting) is usually not classified as a brain injury. This is because an unruptured aneurysm only causes symptoms in a small number of cases. An aneurysm that is at risk of rupturing or has already ruptured is classified as a brain injury.

  • Brain haemorrhage -

    A brain haemorrhage is bleeding in or around the brain either as a result of ruptured aneurysm or following a significant blow to the head. It is also often called a haemorrhagic stroke or brain bleed.

  • Encephalitis -

    is an inflammation of the brain, most often caused by infections. In many cases, people will make a good recovery from encephalitis, but nerve cells in the brain may be damaged. This can lead to long-term effects, which are sometimes severe.

  • Hydrocephalus -

    is caused by a build-up of fluid inside the skull, which can increase pressure and cause damage to the brain.

  • Hypoxic / Anoxic brain injury –

    Hypoxic/anoxic brain injury occurs when the brain is deprived of oxygen. This can happen as a result of drowning, suffocation, or cardiac arrest.

    Oxygen is needed for the brain to make use of glucose, its major energy source. So if the oxygen supply is interrupted, consciousness will be lost within 15 seconds and damage to the brain begins to occur after about four minutes without oxygen.

    A complete interruption of the supply of oxygen to the brain is referred to as cerebral anoxia. If there is still a partial supply of oxygen, but at a level which is inadequate to maintain normal brain function, this is known as cerebral hypoxia. In practice, these two terms tend to be used interchangeably.

    This is a common cause of cerebral palsy, due to impingements on the umbilical cord, delays to delivery during, or other complications during birth.

Seeking legal help for a TBI

Brain injuries are often complex and similarly raise a range of complex issues for individuals and their families, especially when compared to other forms of injury. When seeking legal advice it is therefore important to seek out a solicitor with experience in brain injury claims. 

A specialist solicitor will know the right expert/s to instruct in your claim to ensure you or your loved one gets the compensation they need, and will seek to obtain extensive support via a multidisciplinary treatment team, including Speech and Language Therapy, neurophysiotherapy, occupational therapy and neuropsychiatry.

The claims process is there to ensure you and your family are able to recover after injury. You should not be at a loss (whether in the physical, cognitive, emotional or financial sense of the word) as a result of injuries done to you or someone close to you. 

Making a claim can also help ensure that someone else doesn’t have to go through the same experience in the future – particularly in the case of medical negligence claims wherein patient safety failings can be highlighted and (hopefully) addressed for future patients.

If you would like to speak to a member of our specialist brain injury team about making a claim for compensation, please find out more about our brain injury expertise here.

Contact our brain injury specialists

If you or someone close to you has suffered a brain injury as a result of someone else’s negligence, and you think you have a claim for compensation, please contact our team to find out how they can help you.

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