Head Injury (Brain Injury)

  • Medical Author:
    Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM

    Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Dementia Quiz

Quick GuideConcussions & Brain Injuries: Symptoms, Tests, Treatment

Concussions & Brain Injuries: Symptoms, Tests, Treatment

What are the causes of head injury?

By definition, trauma is required to cause a head injury, but that trauma does not necessarily need to be violent. Falling down a few steps or falling into a hard object may be enough to cause damage. Motor vehicle crashes account for about 17% of traumatic brain injuries, while 35% are from falls. The majority of head injuries occur in males.

Penetrating head injuries describe those situations in which the injury occurs due to a projectile, for example a bullet, or when an object is impaled though the skull into the brain.

Closed head injuries refer to injuries in which no lacerations are present.

The brain may also be injured without a direct blow to the skull. The head sits on the neck allowing it to shake, causing the brain to slosh inside the skull and become injured.

What are the symptoms of a head injury?

The symptoms of head injury can vary from almost none to loss of consciousness and coma. As well, the symptoms may not necessarily occur immediately at the time of injury. While a brain injury occurs at the time of trauma, it may take time for enough swelling or bleeding to occur to cause symptoms that are recognizable.

Initial symptoms may include a change in mental status, meaning an alteration in the wakefulness of the patient. There may be loss of consciousness, lethargy, and confusion.

Head injury symptoms may also include:

  • vomiting,
  • difficulty tolerating bright lights,
  • leaking cerebrospinal fluide from the ear or nose,
  • bleeding from the ear,
  • speech difficulty,
  • paralysis,
  • difficulty swallowing, and
  • numbness of the body.

Other symptoms may be more subtle and include:

Late signs of significant head injury and raised pressure within the brain and skull include a dilated pupil, high blood pressure, low pulse rate, and abnormal breathing pattern.

Coma may be present if the patient doesn't awaken completely and is defined as a prolonged episode of loss of consciousness. There are different levels of coma and the Glasgow Coma Scale is one way of measuring its depth.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/11/2015

Subscribe to MedicineNet's Newsletters

Get the latest health and medical information delivered direct to your inbox!

By clicking Submit, I agree to the MedicineNet's Terms & Conditions & Privacy Policy and understand that I may opt out of MedicineNet's subscriptions at any time.

VIEW PATIENT COMMENTS
  • Head Injury - Cause

    Please describe the cause and outcome of your Head Injury.

    Post View 28 Comments
  • Head Injury (Brain Injury) - Symptoms

    What were the symptoms associated with a head injury in you or someone you know?

    Post View 9 Comments
  • Head Injury - Treatment

    What was the treatment for your head injury?

    Post View 1 Comment
  • Head Injury - Children

    Did your child suffer a head injury? Please share your experience.

    Post View 3 Comments
  • Head Injury - Prognosis

    What was/is the prognosis for someone you know who suffered a head injury?

    Post View 1 Comment
  • Head Injury - Prevention

    Please provide tips and suggestions for preventing a head injury.

    Post

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors