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  • Writer's pictureHollis Lyman

Changes After a Brain Injury: Why do I feel like this?

Updated: Feb 28

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The human brain is an intricate network of cells, constantly communicating through chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters play a vital role in regulating our thoughts, emotions, and bodily functions. However, when the brain suffers an injury, such as a concussion or traumatic brain injury (TBI), the delicate balance of neurotransmitters can be disrupted, leading to significant changes in brain function. In this article, we will delve into the realm of neurotransmitters, exploring their acute and chronic altera

tions following a brain injury.


Immediately after a brain injury, the brain undergoes a series of rapid and dynamic changes. One of the primary neurotransmitters affected during this acute phase is glutamate. Glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter that aids in normal brain function. However, after a brain injury, excess glutamate is released, leading to an overactivation of neurons. This excessive neuronal firing, known as excitotoxicity, can cause further damage to brain cells and trigger a cascade of detrimental events.



Another neurotransmitter impacted acutely is gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), an inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps regulate brain activity. Following a brain injury, there is a decrease in GABA levels, resulting in reduced inhibitory control. This imbalance disrupts the equilibrium between excitation and inhibition in the brain, leading to heightened neuronal activity and increased vulnerability to seizures.



Additionally, acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter associated with learning, memory, and attention, may experience dysregulation after a brain injury. Reduced levels of acetylcholine can contribute to cognitive impairments, such as difficulties with concentration, memory recall, and overall cognitive processing.



While acute changes in neurotransmitters can have an immediate impact, the brain's response to injury is not limited to the initial period. Over time, chronic changes in neurotransmitter systems can develop, potentially leading to long-lasting consequences.


Serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in mood regulation and emotional well-being, may be significantly affected in the aftermath of a brain injury. Reduced serotonin levels can contribute to the development of depressive symptoms, anxiety, and emotional instability. These changes in mood can have a profound impact on an individual's overall quality of life and their ability to engage in daily activities.


Dopamine, another critical neurotransmitter associated with motivation, reward, and movement control, can also undergo alterations following a brain injury. Disruptions in dopamine levels can result in motor impairments, such as difficulties with coordination, movement planning, and balance. Furthermore, changes in dopamine can affect an individual's ability to experience pleasure and may contribute to the development of apathy and anhedonia.





A brain injury can significantly disrupt the delicate dance of neurotransmitters in the brain. Acute changes, characterized by an excess of excitatory glutamate, decreased inhibitory GABA, and imbalances in acetylcholine, can lead to immediate cognitive and neurological impairments. Furthermore, chronic alterations, including reduced serotonin and dopamine levels, can result in long-term emotional and motor dysfunction.


Understanding these complex neurotransmitter changes is crucial for developing effective treatments and interventions to support individuals recovering from brain injuries. By targeting specific neurotransmitter systems, medical professionals can potentially restore the balance and promote the brain's healing process.


As our knowledge of the brain continues to expand, further research is necessary to uncover the intricate mechanisms underlying neurotransmitter changes after brain injuries. Ultimately, this understanding can pave the way for improved diagnostic tools, innovative therapies, and enhanced rehabilitation programs, ultimately offering hope to those affected by these life-altering injuries.


Changes After a Brain Injury: Why do I feel like this?




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