Trauma Survivors Network - provided by ATS

Survive. Connect. Rebuild.

A Program of the ATS

Head Injuries

Definition and Overview

A head injury is an injury to the head, and it may or may not involve the brain.  Head injury most commonly includes any injury to the scalp, skull, or brain.  Head injuries can take many forms from broken skull bones, to brain injury, or bleeding from or within the skull.  They can be classified in several different ways in order to represent the location or type of injury.  Closed head injuries are those where the skull is not penetrated.  Open injuries are those in which the skull is penetrated or broken, which can increase the risk of infection.  Head injury is a common cause of hospitalization.  Men are twice as likely to suffer a head injury as women. 

Common head injuries include: 

Skull Fracture: cracks or breaks in the skull bones due to either blunt or penetrating trauma. The brain and/or blood vessels below the fracture may also be injured.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI):  an injury to the brain due to either blunt or penetrating trauma.

Concussion: a brief loss of consciousness following a blow to the head. A CT scan of the head will not show this injury. Concussions may cause confusion or loss of memory about events that caused the injury. More severe concussions can lead to more severe confusion and comatose-like states.

Cerebral Contusion: bruising of the brain. This can occur beneath a skull fracture. It can also be a result of a blow to the head that has caused the brain to shift and bounce against the skull.

Subdural Hematoma: occurs when a vein on the outside of the brain is injured and bleeds. A blood clot slowly forms and puts pressure on the outside of the brain. 

Epidural Hematoma:  occurs when an artery on the outside of the brain is injured. A blood clot can occur quickly and put pressure on the outside of the brain. 

Intracerebral Hemorrhage:  when the bleeding is occurring inside the brain tissue. This usually occurs when blood vessels deep in the brain are injured.

Swelling of the Brain:  often occurs after a TBI.  Because the skull cannot change size (get bigger or smaller), there is little room for the brain to expand.  When brain tissue swells, blood flow to the brain decreases, putting the brain at risk for damage due to lack of oxygen.  

Causes and Symptoms

The most common causes of head injury aretraffic accidents, falls, sporting accidents, assaults or fights, and gun shot wounds.  The head or brain can be damaged directly by things such as blows to the head, or indirectly by things like lack of oxygen, or brain swelling.  Symptoms of head trauma can include swelling of the scalp, lacerations, and bleeding from open head wounds.  For wounds that involve more force to the head, and cause some brain injury, the person can become confused, suffer some memory loss, have amnesia, or lose the ability to learn properly.  As the brain heals some of the functions will return to normal. 

Treatment and Prognosis

Most often a Computed Tomography (CT) scan of the head and neck is necessary to check for brain bruising.  In the case of skull fractures or bleeding within the skull surgery may be necessary.  

For people suffering mild head injury recovery can be complete and fairly quick.  However, symptoms such as dizziness and headache can last for up to a year. People suffering from severe head injury can suffer permanent physical or mental disability.  Recovery in this case may take five years or more depending on the person's age, and the severity of the injury.

Associated pages

Brain Death
Skull Fracture
Traumatic Brain Injury
Brain Hemorrhages
Cerebral Hypoxia
Anatomy and Physiology