This glossary contains words which have been included in the text of this booklet, as well as terms which may be used in the hospital.  A fuller glossary of terms can be found on the Headway web site

Acquired brain injury (ABI)

Any brain injury that has occurred since birth, including traumatic brain injury, stroke, hypoxia, viral infection and tumour.


Complete oxygen starvation.  A condition in which the oxygen supply to the tissues is cut off completely and which, if occurring in the brain, causes anoxic brain injury.  Partial loss of oxygen supply to the tissues is known as Hypoxia.

Arterial Line  

A very thin tube (catheter) inserted into an artery to allow direct measurement of blood pressure and oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood.

Carers Assessment

An assessment of a carer’s needs carried out by the local authority, which informs the provision of social services.  Available to anyone who provides regular and substantial amount of care to someone who is aged 18 or over. 


A tube which is inserted into the body to withdraw or introduce fluids.

Cerebro-spinal fluid (CSF)

Liquid which fills the ventricles of the brain and surrounds the brain and spinal cord.

Closed head injury

Damage to the brain where there is no penetration from the scalp or skull through to brain tissue. Often there is no injury to scalp or skull.


High-level functions carried out by the human brain, including comprehension and use of speech, visual perceptions and construction, mathematical ability, attention, information processing, memory, and executive functions such as planning, problem-solving and self-monitoring.


A state of unconsciousness in which a person cannot be awakened and fails to respond normally to pain, light or sound.  The depth of coma can be measured by the Glasgow Coma Scale

Community Care Assessment

An assessment of care needs carried out by the local authority, which informs provision of social services. Available to anyone considered to require care services because of age, illness or disability.

Continuing Care Assessment   

An assessment of health related care needs carried out by the Primary Care Trust (PCT), which informs provision of NHS continuing care services.


Joints and muscles which are not used regularly quickly becoming stiff, rendering them resistant to stretching.


Surgical removal of a section of the skull in order to relieve pressure on the brain.


Surgical removal of a section of the skull, which is then replaced after the brain has been operated on.

CT (Computerised Tomography) Scan

A series of X-rays at different levels of the brain.  Tomography is a technique using X-rays to build up a focused image of a ‘slice’ through the body at a given level.


A health professional, registered with the British Dietetic Association.  Dieticians are trained in using the science of nutrition to help people with health problems to make informed choices about food and lifestyle.  

Diffuse axonal injury

Injury to cells in many areas of the brain rather than in one specific location.


Difficulty in controlling urges and impulses to speak, act or show emotions.


Difficulty speaking because of weakness and lack of co-ordination of the muscles used for speech.


Difficulty with swallowing.


Disorders of speech and language, including the following:

Expressive dysphasia /aphasia - a disorder of language in which the person has a varying degree of difficulty in expressing him/herself in correct words and sentences.  This can manifest as a difficulty retrieving names, e.g. for common objects or people.  Some people will find their own ways of compensating for these problems, possibly by using descriptions or gestures.

Nominal dysphasia - objects presented to the patient cannot be named, for example, they will say “you cut with them” instead of “scissors”. Other aspects of speech are normal.

Receptive dysphasia/aphasia – a disorder of language in which the person has a varying degree of difficulty in comprehending spoken and/or written words and possibly sentences.

Electroencephalogram (EEG)

EEG is a test used to record any changes of electrical activity in the brain by placing electrodes on the scalp.

Endotracheal tube

A tube put into the windpipe through the nose or mouth to help with breathing.  This is connected to a ventilator which breathes mechanically for the person, ensuring the brain is well supplied with oxygen.


Seizure or fits involving parts of or all of the brain.

Glasgow Coma Scale

A score given to head injured patients, starting immediately after the head injury, to measure the degree of unconsciousness.


A collection of blood forming a swelling, which compresses and damages the brain around it.


Blood loss, bleeding.


A term applied to the state in which the body tissues have an inadequate supply of oxygen.  

Intensive Care Units (ICU) or Intensive Therapy Units (ITU)

Wards where patients are nursed on a one-to-one basis and where the main intention is to enable the patient to become medically stable.

Intracranial Pressure (ICP) Monitor

A small tube inserted into the head to measure how much pressure is building up within the skull.

Intravenous infusion (IVI)

Procedure in which fluids, nutrients or medication are administered to a patient directly into a vein.

Locked-in Syndrome

A condition in which the patient is awake and retains the ability to sense and perceive, but is unable to move due to the motor nervous system being paralysed. It can sometimes be confused with persistent vegetative state.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Enables detailed pictures of the brain to be acquired using a strong magnet rather than X-rays.

Minimally Conscious State (MCS)

A condition of severely reduced consciousness, which is distinct from coma and persistent vegetative state by evidence of limited conscious awareness and responsiveness to stimuli.

Nasogastric Tube

This is the very thin tube that is threaded through the nose and throat into the stomach for giving liquid food and pureed meals.  It may be used if there are swallowing difficulties.

Neuro High Dependency Unit (NHDU)

Ward where patients are nursed on a one-to-one basis by specialist staff and where the main intention is to enable the patient to become medically stable.

Neurological Rehabilitation

Aims to minimise the long-term impact of brain injury and other neurological conditions by helping the brain learn alternative ways of working.


A medical specialist who assesses and treats psychiatric disorders caused by acquired brain injury and diseases of the brain and nervous system.


A specialist in the assessment and rehabilitation of behavioural, emotional and cognitive problems caused by brain injury.

Neurosurgical Unit

Ward where patient’s brain injuries are assessed for the necessity for surgery and neurosurgery is carried out. 

Occupational Therapist (OT)

A professional who is involved in the assessment and rehabilitation of physical and psychological conditions, using specific purposeful activity to promote independent functioning in daily life.


A build-up of fluid in the brain, causing swelling.

Palliative Care

The active, holistic care of patients with advanced, terminal illness or injury.  Management of pain and other symptoms and provision of psychological, social and spiritual support is paramount. The goal of palliative care is achievement of the best quality of life for patients and their families.

Persistent Vegetative State (PVS)

A long-standing condition of severely reduced consciousness, in which the patient has distinct sleep-wake cycles but does not exhibit evidence of conscious awareness.  

Percutaneous Endoscopic Gastrostomy [PEG] Tube

A tube inserted through the abdomen into the stomach in order to provide nutrition for patients who have difficulty swallowing adequate quantities of food.

Physiotherapist (physio)

A health professional who helps patients with physical difficulties to improve their movement and function.

Post-concussion syndrome

A group of symptoms occurring after minor head injury that may persist for days, weeks or months.

Post-traumatic amnesia (PTA)

The period after being unconscious when there may be confused behaviour and no continuous memory of day-to-day events.


A device to draw off excess fluid in the brain.  A surgically placed tube runs from the brain and deposits fluid into the abdominal cavity.

Slow-stream rehabilitation

Long-term rehabilitation usually provided in residential care units, for people who no longer require intensive therapy but still have the potential to make improvements.

Speech and Language Therapist (SALT)

A health professional that assesses and treats speech, language and communication problems.  A SALT also assesses and manages any swallowing difficulties a person may have.


An operation to insert a plastic tube in the neck just below the Adam's apple. Through this tube, an adequate air passage can be maintained. It may be necessary to leave the tube in the windpipe for a prolonged period.

Traumatic Brain injury (TBI)

Damage to the brain caused by a blow to the head. The most frequent causes are road traffic collisions, assaults, domestic and industrial accidents and sports injuries.


A machine that moves air mechanically into and out of the lungs of a patient who is physically unable to breathe for themselves.  It delivers moistened (humidified) air with the appropriate percentage of oxygen and at the appropriate rate and pressure.


Although Headway Lincolnshire and the publisher have made every effort to ensure that the information in this book was correct at press time, they do not assume and hereby disclaim any liability to any party for any loss, damage, or disruption caused by errors or omissions.