Brain injury; Head trauma
A head injury is any trauma to the scalp, skull, or brain. The injury may be only a minor bump on the skull or a serious brain injury.
Head injury can be either closed or open (penetrating).
Head injuries include:
Head injuries may cause bleeding:
Head injury is a common reason for an emergency room visit. A large number of people who suffer head injuries are children. Traumatic brain injury (TBI) accounts for over 1 in 6 injury-related hospital admissions each year.
Common causes of head injury include:
Most of these injuries are minor because the skull protects the brain. Some injuries are severe enough to require a stay in the hospital.
Head injuries may cause bleeding in the brain tissue and the layers that surround the brain (subarachnoid hemorrhage, subdural hematoma, epidural hematoma).
Symptoms of a head injury can occur right away. Or symptoms can develop slowly over several hours or days. Even if the skull is not fractured, the brain can hit the inside of the skull and be bruised. The head may look fine, but problems could result from bleeding or swelling inside the skull.
The spinal cord is also likely to be injured in any serious trauma.
Some head injuries cause changes in brain function. This is called a traumatic brain injury. Concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury. Symptoms of a concussion can range from mild to severe.
Learning to recognize a serious head injury and give basic first aid can save someone's life. For a moderate to severe head injury, CALL 911 RIGHT AWAY.
Get medical help right away if the person:
Then take the following steps:
Follow these precautions:
A serious head injury that involves bleeding or brain damage must be treated in a hospital.
For a mild head injury, no treatment may be needed. However, watch for symptoms of a head injury, which can show up later.
Your health care provider will explain what to expect, how to manage any headaches, how to treat your other symptoms, when to return to sports, school, work, and other activities, and signs or symptoms to worry about.
Both adults and children must follow the provider's instructions about when it will be possible to return to sports.
Call 911 right away if:
Not all head injuries can be prevented. The following simple steps can help keep you and your child safe:
Heegaard WG, Biros MH, Head injury. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 41.
Liebig CW, Congeni JA. Sports-related traumatic brain injury (concussion). In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St Geme JW, Schor NF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 688.
Last reviewed on: 11/4/2015
Reviewed by: Jesse Borke, MD, FACEP, FAAEM, Attending Physician at FDR Medical Services/Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, Buffalo, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.