Head Injuries

Head Injury

What is a head injury?
A head injury is any sort of injury to your brain, skull, or scalp. This can range from a mild bump or bruise to a traumatic brain injury. Common head injuries include concussions, skull fractures, and scalp wounds. The consequences and treatments vary greatly, depending on what caused your head injury and how severe it is.
Head injuries may be either closed or open. A closed head injury is any injury that doesn’t break your skull. An open (penetrating) head injury is one in which something breaks your scalp and skull and enters your brain.
It can be hard to assess how serious a head injury is just by looking. Some minor head injuries bleed a lot, while some major injuries don’t bleed at all. It’s important to treat all head injuries seriously and get them assessed by a doctor.

What causes a head injury?
In general, head injuries can be divided into two categories based on what causes them. They can either be head injuries due to blows to the head or head injuries due to shaking.
Head injuries caused by shaking are most common in infants and small children, but they can occur any time you experience violent shaking.

Head injuries caused by a blow to the head are usually associated with:
motor vehicle accidents
falls
physical assaults
sports-related accidents
In most cases, your skull will protect your brain from serious harm. However, injuries severe enough to cause head injury can also be associated with injuries to the spine.

What are the major types of head injuries?

Hematoma
A hematoma is a collection, or clotting, of blood outside the blood vessels. It can be very serious if a hematoma occurs in the brain. The clotting can lead to pressure building up inside your skull. This can cause you to lose consciousness or result in permanent brain damage.
Hemorrhage
A hemorrhage is uncontrolled bleeding. There can be bleeding in the space around your brain, called subarachnoid hemorrhage, or bleeding within your brain tissue, called intracerebral hemorrhage.

Subarachnoid hemorrhages often cause headaches and vomiting. The severity of intracerebral hemorrhages depends on how much bleeding there is, but over time any amount of blood can cause pressure buildup.

Concussion
A concussion occurs when the impact on the head is severe enough to cause brain injury. It’s thought to be the result of the brain hitting against the hard walls of your skull or the forces of sudden acceleration and deceleration. Generally speaking, the loss of function associated with a concussion is temporary. However, repeated concussions can eventually lead to permanent damage.

Edema
Any brain injury can lead to edema, or swelling. Many injuries cause swelling of the surrounding tissues, but it’s more serious when it occurs in your brain. Your skull can’t stretch to accommodate the swelling. This leads to pressure buildup in your brain, causing your brain to press against your skull.

Skull fracture
Unlike most bones in your body, your skull doesn’t have bone marrow. This makes the skull very strong and difficult to break. A broken skull is unable to absorb the impact of a blow, making it more likely that there’ll also be damage to your brain. Learn more about skull fractures.

Diffuse axonal injury
A diffuse axonal injury (sheer injury) is an injury to the brain that doesn’t cause bleeding but does damage the brain cells. The damage to the brain cells results in them not being able to function. It can also result in swelling, causing more damage. Though it isn’t as outwardly visible as other forms of brain injury, a diffuse axonal injury is one of the most dangerous types of head injuries. It can lead to permanent brain damage and even death.

What are the symptoms of a head injury?
Your head has more blood vessels than any other part of your body, so bleeding on the surface of your brain or within your brain is a serious concern in head injuries. However, not all head injuries cause bleeding.
It’s important to be aware of other symptoms to watch out for. Many symptoms of serious brain injury won’t appear right away. You should always continue to monitor your symptoms for several days after you injure your head.

Common symptoms of a minor head injury include:
a headache
lightheadedness
a spinning sensation
mild confusion
nausea
temporary ringing in the ears
The symptoms of a severe head injury include many of the symptoms of minor head injuries. They can also include:
a loss of consciousness
seizures
vomiting
balance or coordination problems
serious disorientation
an inability to focus the eyes
abnormal eye movements
a loss of muscle control
a persistent or worsening headache
memory loss
changes in mood
leaking of clear fluid from the ear or the nose

When does a head injury require medical attention?
Head injuries shouldn’t be taken lightly. See your doctor right away if you think you have the symptoms of a serious head injury.
In particular, you should always seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following:
loss of consciousness
confusion
disorientation
Either call 911 or your local emergency services or go to an emergency room. Even if you don’t go to the ER immediately after the injury occurs, you should seek help if you still have symptoms after a day or two.
In the case of a potentially serious head injury, you should always call 911 or your local emergency services. Motion can sometimes make a head injury worse. Emergency medical personnel are trained to move injured people carefully without causing more damage.

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