How do you know if a head injury is serious? | AllSpine

How to know if a head injury is serious

If you suspect someone suffered a head injury recently, or a bodily impact that may have affected the brain then it’s important to talk to a doctor as soon as possible. Head impacts can have varying effects on the body and brain, however, and they can range from mild to very serious with long lasting damage. How can you tell what type of head injury happened? That’s what we’re here to explore.

What is a head injury?

One of the most common causes of disability and death in adults is an impact to the head. Which is why there’s so much emphasis on wearing helmets while riding bikes, motorcycles, skateboards and other activities which might result in a head injury.

Head injuries encompass a wide range of injuries that can happen to the scalp, skull, brain and blood vessels within the head. If the injury does affect the brain it can be called a brain injury, or traumatic brain injury (TBI).

What causes a head injury?

In adults the most common cause of a head injury is a blow to the head. In many cases your skull will protect your brain from harm, however, repeated impacts or a significant impact may cause a traumatic brain injury. Frequently these are caused by:

  • Car accident impacts
  • Falls from stairs, ladders, or on a slippery surface
  • Physical assaults
  • Sports-related head injuries

What types of head injuries are there?

Hematoma in the brain

This type of brain injury is the collecting, or clotting of blood outside of blood vessels. When this occurs in the brain it causes pressure build up inside your skull and may cause loss of consciousness or permanent damage.


Generally speaking a hemorrhage is uncontrolled bleeding. When this happens in the are around your brain it’s called subarachnoid hemorrhage, or if in the brain tissue an intracerebral hemorrhage. These can cause headaches and vomiting, and even pressure build up over time.


Concussions may happen when an impact to the head is forceful enough to cause the brain to hit against the walls of your skull, or during sudden acceleration or deceleration. Concussions symptoms are usually temporary, such as any loss of cognitive functions, though if someone suffers from repeated concussions it may cause long lasting damage.

Skull Fractures

Did you know that the skull actually consists of 22 bones? During your infancy the skull hardens and fuses over time to protect the brain. However, a skull fracture happens when there’s a break in any of these cranial bones, which may be the result of a blow to the head that is strong enough to break bone. Often a brain injury comes along with a skull fracture, but not all the time.

Symptoms of a Head Injury

The head has the most blood vessels of any part of the body, which is why bleeding is always a major concern when it comes to head injuries. Though, not every head injury causes bleeding it’s best to be aware after any kind of impact and consult a doctor immediately.

The symptoms of a head injury can be delayed, and appear hours or days later, or they might appear immediately after an accident. The best course of action is to monitor symptoms for at least a few days after an injury.

The most common symptom for a mild head injury are:

  • Headaches
  • Lightheadedness
  • Spinning sensation
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Ringing in the ears

And the symptoms for a more severe head injury may include symptoms from a mild injury but also include:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Coordination issues
  • Inability to focus the eyes
  • Loss of muscle control
  • Worsening headache
  • Memory loss
  • Changes to mood
  • Abnormal eye movement

When should you seek medical care for a head injury?

Head injuries are a serious medical concern, so you should seek out your doctor immediately after an impact that may affect the brain. It’s extremely important to see a medical professional if you experience loss of consciousness, confusion or disorientation after a head injury.

If a potentially serious head injury occurs you should always call 911. Medical professionals are trained on how to move and handle a person who has suffered a head injury without worsening the damage.

How does a doctor diagnose head injuries?

Thorough diagnosis of a head injury is critical, since the underlying issues may not be easily understood immediately after the injury. After a comprehensive medical evaluation and diagnostic testing for a head injury the trauma can be much more well treated. These types of injuries can cause neurological problems and may require a follow up visit.

Some diagnostic testing for head injuries include:

  • Blood testing
  • X-Rays
  • Computer tomography scan (or a CT scan)
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

Treating a head injury

Treatment for a head injury can involve medication, such as acetaminophen for pain. NSAIDs (or anti inflammatory drugs) should be avoided since they can worsen bleeding. Anti-seizure medicine might be necessary if there is a severe brain injury and you’re at risk for seizures, or diuretics for any potential pressure build up in the brain.

Surgery for a head injury

Emergency surgery for a head injury is a possibility when suffering a traumatic brain injury in order to minimize additional damage. Some of the types of surgery associated with head injuries are:

  • Removing a hematoma
  • Repairing skull fractures
  • Opening a window to the skull
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