Subtle brain injury – the ‘invisible’ disability – 5 key things you may not know

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It’s not always obvious that someone has a brain injury. While some brain injuries can be physically evident, many are more subtle and can only really be noticed by those closest to the individual in time.

As part of Action for Brain Injury Week 2017, we wanted to look at all aspects of acquired brain injury and explain the life-changing effect brain injury can have from the most severe to subtle brain injuries.

Here are 5 key things you may not know about subtle brain injury:

1. What is subtle brain injury?

Subtle brain injury is a description for brain injuries at the most inconspicuous end of the spectrum. Often the person will appear completely uninjured and only close family and friends will notice the cognitive and behavioural symptoms.

2. Why is it under-diagnosed?

Subtle brain injury often goes undiagnosed for a number of key reasons including: inexperience on the part of the medical and legal professions in picking up subtle brain injuries; patients’ denial due to being embarrassed about cognitive and/or behavioural issues; medical practitioners ‘fobbing off’ sufferers with alternative ‘easier’ explanations such as ‘shock’ or ‘litigation stress’ and the reluctance of insurers to acknowledge subtle brain injuries because there is no scan capable of detecting very subtle, microscopic damage to the brain.

3. What are the symptoms of subtle brain injury?

Common symptoms of subtle brain injury can include: constant mental fatigue; outbursts of anger; headaches; impaired ability to multi-task; word retrieval difficulties; disinhibition in speech and behaviour; OCD; impulsive spending habits; impaired sense of taste and smell and alcohol intolerance.

4. What are the legal challenges?

Subtle brain injury cases are often very aggressively defended by insurers and they are often prepared to spend significant resources commissioning second opinions. Defendants’ experts often don’t perform the rigorous clinical testing required to accurately diagnose people with subtle brain injuries and wrongly conclude there is little wrong with the patient.

5. What should you do if you or a family member has a subtle brain injury?

If it is suspected that a person has a subtle brain injury and they want to pursue a claim for compensation, it is important they appoint a specialist personal injury solicitor who works with medical experts and counsel specialising in brain injuries. This can save costs in the long run and improve the outcome of the compensation process, especially if they are involved from the earliest possible stage where the condition is suspected or where some of the symptoms have not been resolved.

Doctors and researchers are understanding more and more about the devastating effects of brain injuries on victims and their families.

Technology is improving all the time and medical professionals increasingly have access to cutting-edge scanning technology which is able to confirm diagnosis and identify the parts of the brain affected. This is extremely positive news for brain injury survivors, ensuring the doors are open for rehabilitation, care and support that otherwise may not have been accessible for them.

To find out more information about brain injuries and how Headway can help and support survivors, visit To learn more about Action for Brain Injury Week 2017, visit

If you’re on Twitter, you can follow @HeadwayUK and support the campaign by using the hash tags #ABIWeek and #ANewMe .


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