What Is Secondary Brain Injury?

October 27, 2022 Posted In Brain Injuries

A secondary brain injury refers to the damage that can occur as an indirect result of a primary cause of a brain injury. In the hours or days after an initial brain injury, many cellular, chemical, tissue, and blood vessel changes can destroy parts of the brain that were originally unharmed. 

What Is Secondary Brain Injury?

The Difference Between Primary and Secondary Brain Injury

A primary brain injury is immediate damage to the brain tissue as a direct result of an external incident, such as a violent blow or jolt to the head. During impact, the brain can suffer bruising, bleeding, and the shearing of nerve fibers known as axons. The brain will typically swell in response, causing tissue to push against the skull, leading to further bleeding and reduced circulation. If the swelling is not treated, parts of the brain can be starved of oxygen and nutrients. As a result, secondary brain damage occurs when undamaged brain cells begin to die. 

Causes of Secondary Brain Injury

Secondary brain injury is commonly caused by the following effects of a primary brain injury: 

  • Insufficient blood flow or lack of oxygen to the brain
  • Chemical changes
  • Bleeding inside the skull
  • Increased fluid build-up
  • Swelling of the brain and increased pressure inside the skull
  • An infection
  • Low blood pressure
  • Brain abscesses

The risk of secondary brain injury increases if victims delay seeking medical care immediately after suffering head trauma. However, secondary brain injury can also occur independent of an external incident—for instance, from meningitis, a brain tumor, excessively acidic blood (acidosis), excessive carbon dioxide levels in the blood (hypercapnia), or alteration of neurotransmitter release. 

Signs of a Brain Injury

Any of the following signs of a brain injury require immediate medical attention: 

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Seizures
  • Loss of coordination
  • A sense of confusion
  • Agitation or other behavioral changes
  • Clear fluids draining from nose or ears
  • Loss of balance
  • Persistent, worsening headache
  • Pupil dilation
  • Slurred speech
  • Fatigue 
  • Numbness or weakness in fingers and toes

Most Common Causes of Primary Brain Injuries

The leading causes of primary brain injuries are as follows: 


Examples include falling from a ladder, falling down the stairs, or tripping and hitting your head on the ground or a solid object.

Motor Vehicle Accidents

It is common for the head to be forcefully jolted or come into contact with an object upon impact, such as the headrest or another part of the vehicle. 


TBIs, such as concussions, often occur in high-impact sports, such as soccer, boxing, football, baseball, lacrosse, skateboarding, hockey, etc. 


This includes domestic violence, assault, child abuse, gunshot wounds, shaken baby syndrome, etc.

A Brain Injury Attorney Can Help

If you or a loved one has suffered a secondary brain injury in a preventable accident caused by another party’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact an experienced Riverside Traumatic Brain Injury Attorney to arrange a free consultation. We can discuss your legal options and help you hold the at-fault party accountable.

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