Head Injury

Any injury that results in trauma to the scalp, skull, or brain can be classified as a head injury. The terms traumatic brain injury and head injury are often used interchangeably in medical literature. This broad classification includes neuronal injuries, hemorrhages, vascular injuries, cranial nerve injuries, and subdural hygromas, among many others.

These classifications can be further categorized as open (penetrating) or closed head injuries. This depends on if the skull was broken or not. Because head injuries cover such a broad scope of injuries, there are many causes—including accidents, falls, physical assault, or traffic accidents—that can cause head injuries. Many of these are minor, but some can be severe enough to require hospitalization.

The incidence (number of new cases) of head injury is 1.7 million people in the United States alone each year. About 3% of these incidences lead to death. Adults suffer head injuries more frequently than any age group. Their injuries tend to be due to falls, motor vehicle crashes, colliding or being struck by an object, and assaults. Children, however, tend to experience head injuries due to accidental falls and intentional causes (such as being struck or shaken). Head injury usually occurs in toddlers as they learn to walk. Head trauma is a common cause of childhood hospitalization.

Unlike a broken bone where trauma to the body is obvious, head trauma can sometimes be obvious or discrete. In the case of an open head injury, the skull is cracked and broken by an object that makes contact with the brain. This leads to bleeding. Other obvious symptoms can be neurological in nature. The person may become sleepy, behave abnormally, lose consciousness, vomit, develop a severe headache, have mismatched pupil sizes, and/or be unable to move certain parts of the body.

While these symptoms happen right after head injury occurs, many problems can develop later in life. Alzheimer’s disease, for example, is much more likely to develop in a person who has experienced a head injury.