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Brain Injury Glossary

Common TBI Medical Terms

For more than 45 years, the Florida law firm of Searcy Denney has helped people with brain injuries in their families. As a reference, our Florida brain injury attorneys define commonly used medical terms below. After reading our brain injury glossary, schedule a free consultation with Searcy Denney to discuss your claim in detail.

Common TBI Medical Terms


Brain contusion is a bruise on the brain, which, like a bruise to any part of the body, is caused by bleeding.

Brain death means all measurable activity in the brainstem and the brain has ceased.


Closed head injury occurs if the skull remains intact when the brain is injured. A forceful blow to the body during an auto accident, fall or assault may result in closed head injury. Diagnosis of the injury may be delayed because outward signs are often not obvious.

Coma describes a medical condition caused by massive, widespread head trauma in which the patient is unconscious and unaware of and unresponsive to stimuli.

Concussion refers to a traumatic brain injury that is typically temporary, but may have cumulative effect on the brain after multiple concussions or successive concussions when a second brain injury occurs before a prior brain injury has healed.


Disability Rating Scale (DRS) determines level of disabilities resulting from a brain injury, with zero to one indicating mild disability and 22 to 29 indicating vegetative state. Decline in the score shows improvements in the patient’s condition.


Functional Independence Measure (FIM) tests level of disabilities resulting from TBI, with seven corresponding to total independence and one corresponding to total dependence. Increase in score demonstrates patient improvement.


Glasgow Coma Scale measures a TBI patient’s level of eye opening, motor response and verbal response. A total score of 13 to 15 means the patient has mild brain damage, nine to 12 shows moderate brain damage, three to eight indicates the patient has a severe disability or is in a coma, and a patient with a score of three or less is brain dead or in a vegetative state.


Locked-in syndrome may result from brainstem damage, leaving the patient awake and aware, but unable to move, speak or eat.

Loss of Consciousness is considered when measuring level of brain damage. A patient with LOC of less than 30 minutes may only have sustained mild TBI, whereas LOC of 30 minutes to six hours often means moderate TBI, and more than 6 hours may mean severe TBI.


Mild traumatic brain injury does not mean the head injury is not serious, but that the damage to the brain is on the less severe end of medical measurements. Disabilities arising from mild TBI are often manageable, treatable and temporary.

Minimally conscious state refers to a condition in which the patient has some awareness, but remains in an altered consciousness. Minimally conscious state is a positive sign of recovery from coma or vegetative state.


Open head injury occurs if an object penetrates the skull and injures the brain. A gunshot or knife wound would be an open head injury.


Posttraumatic amnesia (PTA) is memory loss that often results from head injury.

Primary brain injury refers to the initial trauma to the brain.


Ranchos Los Amigos Scale measures the TBI patient’s cognition, behavior, awareness and environmental interaction.


Secondary brain injury refers to the aftereffects of head trauma in which the brain bleeding, inflammation and chemical alteration cause injury. Level VIII is the best prognosis and indicates that the patient is purposeful and appropriate. Level I indicates the patient shows no response.

Severe TBI may result in permanent disabilities that leave the patient reliant upon caregivers for a lifetime. The most severe TBI results in coma, vegetative state, locked in syndrome or brain death.


Vegetative state may result from widespread, massive brain damage in which the patient remains unaware of her or his surroundings, despite moving, opening her or his eyes, making sounds and reflexively responding to stimuli.

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"The attorneys and staff at Searcy Denney are some of the most compassionate and caring individuals I have met in the legal field. They work tirelessly on behalf of their clients to ensure the best possible outcome. I would highly recommend them for anyone who is seeking excellent legal representation."
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