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Acute brain injury

What can cause an acute brain injury?

The brain can be injured for different reasons, the most common causes include:

  • Trauma to the head;
  • Blockage of a blood vessel to the brain;
  • Bleeding into or around the brain;
  • The after-effects of when the heart stops during a cardiac arrest.

The team looking after your loved one will be able to explain what caused the brain injury.

Why does a brain injury make patients critically ill?

Sometimes a brain injury can damage a vital area of the brain or involve such a large part of the brain that it places a patient’s life in danger. When patients become this ill because of their brain damage, symptoms may include:

  • Unable to stay awake;
  • Can’t breathe properly;
  • Can’t regulate the proper level of blood pressure.

an anything make the brain better after an acute brain injury?

So far, modern medicine has not found any specific medications or procedures that can repair these damaged brain cells. Unfortunately, once the damage has been done, it cannot be reversed. However, in the right environment the brain does have the potential to recover and adapt to the existing brain injury.

  • In the ICU, focus is placed on preventing further damage to the brain that may result from swelling around the injury, not enough blood to the brain or further bleeding into the brain;
  • To create the best possible environment for the brain to recover, the patient’s breathing and blood pressure are regularly monitored to make sure blood and oxygen are flowing properly to the brain;
  • Detailed neurological clinical exams are done regularly to detect deterioration in brain function, so the team can act quickly to stop any further damage.

What is done if the brain starts to further deteriorate?

  • Medications may be used to help reduce pressure that builds up around the brain from the swelling or bleeding;
  • Surgery may clear large collections of blood that are increasing the pressure on the brain;
  • A part of the skull may be removed to further relieve the pressure.

How long will it take the brain to recover?

  • Just as no two people are alike, no two brain injuries are exactly the same. This can make it hard to provide an accurate estimate of just how much your loved one will recover and how long it will take;
  • Other factors that will affect this recovery process include the age of your loved one, and any previous medical problems.

In general, a patient can continue to improve for up to 2 years. However, much of the recovery takes place in the first 6 months. With a severe brain injury, a patient may suffer life-changing and debilitating problems including mental, behavioral, and physical disabilities.


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Location and contact

Critical Care Medicine

Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre
2075 Bayview Avenue, 
D-wing, 1st floor
room D1 08
Toronto, ON M4N 3M5

Phone: 416-480-4522
Fax: 416-480-4999

For information about patients admitted to Sunnybrook's Intensive Care Units, please contact the unit through the hospital switchboard at 416-480-6100