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What is a brain injury?

Non-Traumatic Brain Injury

What is a non-traumatic brain injury?

Non-traumatic brain injury (also commonly referred to as an acquired brain injury or ABI) causes damage to the brain by internal factors, such as a lack of oxygen, exposure to toxins, or pressure from a tumor. In this instance, “traumatic” refers to the cause of the injury, not in the psychological sense. Non-traumatic brain injuries can still result in psychological trauma.

What causes a non-traumatic brain injury?

There are many different ways to sustain a non-traumatic brain injury. These include:

  • Stroke: A stroke occurs when clots, plaque, or other particles block the blood supply to part of the brain, or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts. In either case, parts of the brain become damaged or die. A stroke can cause lasting brain damage, long-term disability, or even death. Learn more about stroke and preventing a stroke.
  • Lack of oxygen to the brain: Any event that causes oxygen to be cut off from the brain can cause a non-traumatic brain injury. Near-drowning, overdoses, and carbon monoxide poisoning are just a few examples of how this can happen. When the brain is cut off from oxygen, it will result in a hypoxic or anoxic brain injury. This type of brain injury has its own set of symptoms and effects. Learn more about hypoxia and anoxia here.
  • Brain aneurysm: A brain aneurysm occurs when a weakened blood vessel in the brain expands to the point that it can burst. Aneurysms can cause a brain injury whether the expanded blood vessel bursts or not. When the vessel expands, it can put pressure on areas of the brain that can cause an injury.
  • Infectious disease that affects the brain: Certain diseases like meningitis can attack the brain and cause health complications, including acquired brain injury.


There are a wide range of symptoms of non-traumatic brain injury. While no two survivors will experience the same set of symptoms, there are some that are more common than others. Here are some common symptoms of non-traumatic brain injury:

  • Dizziness
  • Vision changes
  • Poor coordination
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty speaking

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If you or a loved one has sustained a non-traumatic brain injury, the Brain Injury Association of America is here to help.

  • The Certified Brain Injury Specialists at our National Brain Injury Information Center (NBIIC) are ready to answer any and all questions that you may have. To get in contact with them, call 1-800-444-6443 or fill out our contact form.
  • Our publication Moderate to Severe Brain Injury: A Practical Guide for Families contains a wealth of information on how to navigate recovery after brain injury.
  • The Resource Center on our website contains articles on a wide range of topics from getting financial assistance to how to deal with specific symptoms.