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Head injury is an injury to the scalp, skull, or brain. The most important consequence of head trauma is traumatic brain injury. Head injury may occur either as a closed head injury, such as the head hitting a car's windshield; or as a penetrating head injury, as when a bullet pierces the skull. Both may cause damage that ranges from mild to profound. Very severe injury can be fatal because of profound brain damage.
External trauma to the head is capable of damaging the brain, even if there is no external evidence of damage. More serious injuries can cause skull fracture, blood clots between the skull and the brain, or bruising and tearing of the brain tissue itself.
Injuries to the head can be caused by traffic accidents, sports injuries, falls, workplace accidents, assaults, or bullets. Most people have had some type of head injury at least once in their lives, but rarely do they require a hospital visit.
Each year about two million people suffer from a more serious head injury, and up to 750,000 of those are severe enough to require hospitalization. Brain injury is most likely to occur in males between ages 15 and 24, usually as a result of car and motorcycle accidents. About 70 percent of all accidental deaths are due to head injuries, as are most of the disabilities that occur after trauma. Among children and infants, head injury is the most common cause of death and disability. The most
A head injury may cause damage both from the direct physical injury to the brain and from secondary factors, such as lack of oxygen, brain swelling, and disturbance of blood flow. Both closed and penetrating head injuries can cause swirling movements throughout the brain, tearing nerve fibers and causing widespread bleeding or a blood clot in or around the brain. Swelling may raise pressure within the skull (intracranial pressure) and may block the flow of oxygen to the brain.
Head trauma may cause a concussion, in which there is a brief loss of consciousness without visible structural damage to the brain. In addition to loss of consciousness, initial symptoms of brain injury may include:
After a head injury, there may be a period of impaired consciousness followed by a period of confusion and impaired memory with disorientation and a breakdown in the ability to store and retrieve new information. Others experience temporary amnesia following head injury that begins with memory loss over a period of weeks, months, or years before the injury (retrograde amnesia). As a person recovers, memory slowly returns. Post-traumatic amnesia refers to loss of memory for events during and after the accident.
Epilepsy occurs in 2–5 percent of those who have had a head injury; it is much more common in people who have had severe or penetrating injuries. Most cases of epilepsy appear right after the accident or within the first year and become less likely with increased time following the accident.
Author Info: L. Fleming Fallon Jr., MD, DrPH, Thomson Gale, Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Children's Health, 2006This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your healthcare provider. Please consult a healthcare professional with any health concerns you may have.
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