Head Injury

Written by Brindles Lee Macon and Elizabeth Boskey, PHD | Published on August 15, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What Is a Head Injury?

Injuries to your brain, skull, or scalp are all types of head injury. A head injury may be mild or severe depending on what caused it. Some injuries produce bleeding within your skull. Others cause damage on the outside of your head. These injuries may be in the form of lacerations, bumps, or bruises.

The Types of Head Injuries

There are four common types of traumatic head injury:

Closed Injury

A closed injury does not break open your skull or penetrate brain tissue. However, it can still cause bruising or swelling of the brain

Open Injury

An open injury is any damage that penetrates the skull. The damage may cause bleeding within the brain’s tissues. It may also produce skull fractures or cause the skull bones to press into your brain tissue.


A concussion occurs when your brain is shaken. It may lead to loss of consciousness and headache.

Scalp Wounds

Your scalp is the skin that covers and protects your skull. Injuries to the scalp may lead to bleeding or tissue damage.

What Causes a Head Injury?

Many types of trauma can cause a head injury.

Gun shot wounds can cause head injuries when the bullet penetrates the skull and enters your brain. This can damage the blood vessels and cause bleeding.

Vehicle accidents are common causes of traumatic head injuries. You may strike your head on the windshield, dashboard, or steering wheel. This can lead to open or closed brain injuries. You may also get a concussion or scalp injury in a vehicle accident.

Violent shaking is a common cause of brain trauma in infants and young children. When a child is shaken, the brain violently strikes the skull. This produces swelling and bleeding in its tissue. Shaken baby syndrome can cause severe brain injury.

Falling and hitting your head can damage the skull, scalp, or brain. Falls may cause any type of head injury.

Assault can lead to a head injury. Being kicked, punched, or struck in the head can cause a concussion, closed or open brain injury. Damage varies with the force of the assault.

What are the Symptoms of a Head Injury?

Symptoms depend on the type of head injury. Some severe symptoms may not appear right away.

Mild head injury symptoms include:

  • inability to stand or balance
  • confusion
  • small cuts or bumps
  • headache
  • nausea
  • temporary memory loss
  • ringing in the ear

Severe head injury symptoms include:

  • bleeding from deep cuts or wounds in the scalp
  • loss of consciousness
  • abnormal eye movements
  • inability to focus the eyes
  • loss of muscle control
  • seizures
  • vomiting

Diagnosing a Head Injury

Doctors can use several types of imaging to check for bleeding in the skull or other brain damage. These include:

  • CT scan
  • MRI
  • X-ray

Head injuries may require immediate emergency care. If you are the victim of a traumatic head injury, emergency workers may stabilize your head, neck, and back before transporting you to the hospital. This protects you in the event of spine damage.

Treating a Head Injury

Treatment will depend on the type of head injury you have. It also depends on your overall health. Some treatments for head injury might include:

  • medications to prevent blood clotting or seizures
  • surgery to stop bleeding in the brain
  • surgery to reduce pressure in the skull, if your brain is swelling

If your brain injury is mild, your doctor may just prescribe rest. However, a family member should monitor your condition. Your doctor will tell them what symptoms to watch for. Changes in your condition may require returning to the doctor.

What Is to Be Expected in the Long Term?

The prognosis of a head injury depends on the severity. Some people with severe brain injuries may have life-long changes to their personality or behavior. Other changes may resolve with time and treatment.

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