What is a Head Trauma?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

"Head trauma" is a broad medical term that refers to any injury to the brain, skull, face, or scalp. An extremely common form of injury, most incidences of head trauma are minor and have no lasting consequences. Nevertheless, since injury to the brain can cause serious complications, some doctors stress at least 24 hours of careful observation of any person with a head injury in order to quickly identify signs of a severe condition.

An MRI scan of the head may be used to help diagnose any injuries caused by head trauma.
An MRI scan of the head may be used to help diagnose any injuries caused by head trauma.

One of the most common types of head trauma is a concussion. This condition occurs when the brain is jostled around due to impact, usually resulting from a fall, sports injury, or blow to the head. Common symptoms of a concussion include temporary loss of consciousness, short-term memory problems, headaches, nausea, and drowsiness. Even mild concussions may result in some lingering side effects that can last for weeks, such as persistent fatigue. While most concussions are mild, people should seek medical attention if vomiting, fainting, or motor coordination problems occur. Some doctors recommend a medical examination after any serious blow to the head, just to eliminate the possibility of complications.

Most incidences of head trauma are minor.
Most incidences of head trauma are minor.

A skull fracture is a type of head trauma that involves breakage or fracturing of the bones in the skull. Like a concussion, this is typically the result of an injury, usually a severe, focused blow to the head. As frightening as they sound, most skull fractures are not extremely serious, and few require invasive surgery. Basilar skull fractures, or those that involve a break around the base of the skull, can permit fluid leakage into the skull, and may be more serious. Any signs of fluid leakage from the nose or ears, or pronounced bruising on the face, may be a sign of a serious injury that requires immediate attention.

Head trauma often occurs during the course of a rugby match.
Head trauma often occurs during the course of a rugby match.

One of the major concerns with most types of head trauma is the potential for swelling in the brain. Known as cranial edema, brain swelling is not so different from the swelling that results from any injury to the body, but is made more dangerous due to the compact space within the skull. As pressure in the brain rises, the ability to get blood and oxygen to the brain diminishes, which can result in cellular damage or destruction. Signs of edema due to head trauma include severe headache, vomiting, and memory or speech problems.

A major concern after head trauma is the swelling of the brain.
A major concern after head trauma is the swelling of the brain.

The other major concern with head trauma is bleeding within the brain or skull. Known as hematoma, this occurs when a blood vessel erupts either in the brain, or within the skull but outside the brain. Acute hematoma occurs directly after an injury and can result in severe brain damage or death if not treated immediately. Subacute and chronic hematomas may develop over time with less persistent symptoms, but can still be dangerous. Symptoms of a hematoma are similar to those of edema, including pronounced headache, repeated fainting, muscle weakness, and seizures.

Fluid leakage from the ears following a head trauma may be a sign of a serious injury.
Fluid leakage from the ears following a head trauma may be a sign of a serious injury.
Head trauma is becoming a common experience for football players.
Head trauma is becoming a common experience for football players.
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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