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Head Trauma (Traumatic Brain Injury)

Head trauma can be fatal. The effects from some types of head trauma may not appear right away. So it’s important to get medical attention for any head injury.

WARNING

Do not move a person with a head injury unless it is necessary to save his or her life. Call 911 and wait for help. Head trauma often comes with severe neck injury. Sudden movements can result in paralysis.

Outline of head hitting windshield showing brain inside moving forward in skull. If head hits hard surface or if person is severely shaken or jerked, brain can strike skull and become damaged.

When to Go to the Emergency Room (ER)

Call 911 right away after a head blow that results in:

  • Daze, confusion, or loss of consciousness

  • Memory problems

  • Severe headache

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Pupils dilated or different sizes

  • Severe bleeding

  • Blood or watery fluid leaking from nose or ears

  • Broken skull or a soft spot on skull

  • Slow breathing

  • Loss of balance

  • Weakness of or trouble using an arm or leg

  • Slurred speech

  • Seizure

What to Expect in the ER

  • A neurological exam is likely. This is a series of simple questions and tests that evaluate the nervous system. Reflexes, response to pain, and mental state are assessed.

  • The doctor shines a bright light into the eyes to check how the pupils respond. This can reveal more about any head injuries.

  • A computed tomography (CT) scan may be done. This test combines x-rays and computer scans to create detailed images of the brain.

Treatment for Head Trauma

  • Severe head injuries often need immediate surgery. In certain cases the injured person will be watched closely and taken for surgery only if injuries become worse. After surgery, special care helps prevent further brain damage.

  • Minor head trauma may need little treatment. The doctor may suggest using cold packs to reduce swelling and pain.

Call 911 or return to the ER right away if the affected person:

  • Becomes very drowsy or confused.

  • Has a headache or trouble seeing.

  • Has a stiff neck or muscle weakness.

  • Vomits.

  • Has seizures.

Online Medical Reviewer: Costello, Melissa W, MD, FACEP
Online Medical Reviewer: Williams, James M, MS, DO, FACEP
Last Review Date: 12/29/2011
© 2000-2014 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.