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A head injury is a broad term that describes a vast array of injuries that occur to the scalp, skull, brain, and underlying tissue and blood vessels in the head. Head injuries are also commonly referred to as brain injury, or traumatic brain injury (TBI), depending on the extent of the head trauma.
Head injuries are one of the most common causes of disability and death in adults. The injury can be as mild as a bump, bruise (contusion), or cut on the head, or can be moderate to severe in nature due to a concussion, deep cut or open wound, fractured skull bone(s), or from internal bleeding and damage to the brain.
These are some of the different types of head injuries:
There are many causes of head injury in children and adults. The most common traumatic injuries are from motor vehicle accidents (automobiles, motorcycles, or struck as a pedestrian), from violence, from falls, or from child abuse. Subdural hematomas and brain hemorrhages can sometimes happen spontaneously.
When there is a direct blow to the head, shaking of the child, or when a whiplash-type injury occurs, the brain jolts backwards and hits the skull on the opposite side, causing a bruise. The jarring of the brain against the sides of the skull can cause tearing of the internal lining, tissues, and blood vessels that may cause internal bleeding, bruising, or swelling of the brain.
Young children, older adults and males are at most risk for head injuries. Those who don’t use child car seats, seat belts, or safety helmets are also at increased risk for head injuries.
Symptoms vary depending on the severity of the head injury. These are the most common symptoms of a head injury.
This requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms may include any of the above plus:
The symptoms of a head injury may look like other problems or medical conditions. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
The full extent of the head injury may not be completely understood immediately after the injury. You will need comprehensive evaluation and testing. A physical exam and other tests help make the diagnosis of a head injury. During the exam, the healthcare provider will ask about your medical history and how you were injured. Trauma to the head can cause neurological problems and may require further medical follow up.
Diagnostic tests may include:
Your healthcare provider will determine the best treatment based on:
For a severe head injury, you are monitored for increased intracranial pressure (pressure inside the skull). Head injury may cause the brain to swell. Since the brain is covered by the skull, there is only a small amount of room for it to swell. This causes pressure inside the skull to increase, which can lead to brain damage.
A head injury can result in loss of muscle strength, fine motor skills, speech, vision, hearing, or taste function, depending on the brain region involved and the severity of brain damage. Long- or short-term changes in personality or behavior may also occur. You may need long-term medical and rehabilitative (physical, occupational, or speech therapy) management.
The key to head injury prevention is to promote a safe environment for children and adults and to prevent head injuries from occurring in the first place. The following measures can help prevent head injury:
Seek immediate medical attention if any of these occur:
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
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