Serious head injury

A serious head injury occurs when the brain hits against the inside of the skull with enough force to cause brain damage. A serious head injury may result from a hard blow to the head or severe jarring or shaking of the head.

With this type of injury, the brain tissue may bruise, swell, or tear. Nerves or blood vessels within or around the brain may stretch, pull apart, or tear.

Serious injury to the brain may occur even when there is no visible bleeding or injury on the outside of the skull.

Symptoms of a serious head injury may include:

  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Memory loss (amnesia).
  • A severe headache, or a headache that continues to get worse.
  • Confusion or abnormal behavior. A young child with a head injury may be very fussy, fretful, or may cry constantly. An adult with a head injury may be combative.
  • Extreme sleepiness or difficulty waking up.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Numbness, weakness, or loss of movement in the arms or legs.
  • Vision changes and changes in the pupils' size, shape, and reaction to light.
  • Dizziness, vertigo, or unsteadiness that prevents standing or walking.
  • Persistent nausea and vomiting.

A person with a suspected head injury should visit a health professional immediately.

It can be difficult right after a head injury to tell the difference between a mild concussion and a more serious injury. A brain bruise (contusion) or bleeding within the skull at first may cause only mild symptoms. After being seen by a doctor, a person who has had a head injury should be closely watched for any changes in behavior or symptoms for 24 hours.

Last Updated: July 9, 2008

Author: Jan Nissl, RN, BS

Medical Review: Michael J. Sexton, MD - Pediatrics & H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine

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