Head injuries include both injuries to the brain and those to other parts of the head, such as the scalp and skull.Head injuries can be closed or open. A closed (non-missile) head injury is where the dura mater remains intact. The skull can be fractured, but not necessarily. A penetrating head injury occurs when an object pierces the skull and breaches the dura mater. Brain injuries may be diffuse, occurring over a wide area, or focal, located in a small, specific area.A head injury may cause skull fracture, which may or may not be associated with injury to the brain. Some patients may have linear or depressed skull fractures.If intracranial hemorrhage occurs, a hematoma within the skull can put pressure on the brain. Types of intracranial hemorrage include subdural, subarachnoid, extradural, andintraparenchymal hematoma. Craniotomy surgeries are used in these cases to lessen the pressure by draining off blood.
Brain injury can be at the site of impact, but can also be at the opposite side of the skull due to a contrecoup effect (the impact to the head can cause the brain to move within the skull, causing the brain to impact the interior of the skull opposite the head-impact).If the impact causes the head to move, the injury may be worsened, because the brain may ricochet inside the skull causing additional impacts, or the brain may stay relatively still (due to inertia) but be hit by the moving skull (both are contrecoup injuries).
Specific problems after head injury can include:
- Skull fracture
- Lacerations to the scalp and resulting hemorrhage of the skin
- Traumatic subdural hematoma, a bleeding below the dura mater which may develop slowly
- Traumatic extradural, or epidural hematoma, bleeding between the dura mater and the skull
- Traumatic subarachnoid hemorrhage
- Cerebral contusion, a bruise of the brain
- Concussion, a loss of function due to trauma
- Dementia pugilistica, or "punch-drunk syndrome", caused by repetitive head injuries, for example in boxing or other contact sports
- A severe injury may lead to a coma or death
- Shaken baby syndrome — a form of child abuse
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is an exchangeable word used for the word concussion. This term refers to a mild brain injury. This injury is a result due to a blow to the head that could make the person’s physical, cognitive, and emotional behaviors irregular.Symptoms may include:Clumsiness, Fatigue, Confusion, Nausea, Blurry Vision, Headaches, and others.Mild concussions are associated withsequelae. Severity is measured using various concussion grading systems.
A slightly greater injury is associated with both anterograde and retrograde amnesia (inability to remember events before or after the injury). The amount of time that the amnesia is present correlates with the severity of the injury. In all cases the patients develop postconcussion syndrome, which includes memory problems, dizziness, tiredness, sickness and depression.Cerebral concussion is the most common head injury seen in children.
Types of intracranial hemorrhage are roughly grouped into intra-axial and extra-axial. The hemorrhage is considered a focal brain injury; that is, it occurs in a localized spot rather than causing diffuse damage over a wider area. Intra-axial hemorrhage is bleeding within the brain itself, or cerebral hemorrhage. This category includes intraparenchymal hemorrhage, or bleeding within the brain tissue, and intraventricular hemorrhage, bleeding within the brain's ventricles (particularly of premature infants). Intra-axial hemorrhages are more dangerous and harder to treat than extra-axial bleeds.
Extra-axial hemorrhage, bleeding that occurs within the skull but outside of the brain tissue, falls into three subtypes:
- Epidural hemorrhage (extradural hemorrhage) which occur between the dura mater (the outermost meninx) and the skull, is caused by trauma. It may result from laceration of an artery, most commonly the middle meningeal artery. This is a very dangerous type of injury because the bleed is from a high-pressure system and deadly increases in intracranial pressure can result rapidly. However, it is the least common type of meningeal bleeding and is seen in 1% to 3% cases of head injury .
- Patients have a loss of consciousness (LOC), then a lucid interval, then sudden deterioration (vomiting, restlessness, LOC)
- Head CT shows lenticular (convex) deformity.
- Subdural hemorrhage results from tearing of the bridging veins in the subdural space between the dura and arachnoid mater.
- Head CT shows crescent-shaped deformity
- Subarachnoid hemorrhage, which occur between the arachnoid and pia meningeal layers, like intraparenchymal hemorrhage, can result either from trauma or from ruptures of aneurysms orarteriovenous malformations. Blood is seen layering into the brain along sulci and fissures, or filling cisterns (most often the suprasellar cistern because of the presence of the vessels of the circle of Willis and their branchpoints within that space). The classic presentation of subarachnoid hemorrhage is the sudden onset of a severe headache (a thunderclap headache). This can be a very dangerous entity, and requires emergent neurosurgical evaluation, and sometimes urgent intervention.
Cerebral contusion is bruising of the brain tissue. The majority of contusions occur in the frontal and temporal lobes. Complications may include cerebral edema and transtentorial herniation. The goal of treatment should be to treat the increased intracranial pressure. The prognosis is guarded. Diffuse axonal injury, or DAI, usually occurs as the result of an acceleration or deceleration motion, not necessarily an impact. Axons are stretched and damaged when parts of the brain of differing density slide over one another. Prognoses vary widely depending on the extent of damage.
Presentation varies according to the injury. Some patients with head trauma stabilize and other patients deteriorate. A patient may present with or without neurological deficit.Patients with concussion may have a history of seconds to minutes unconsciousness, then normal arousal. Disturbance of vision and equilibrium may also occur.Common symptoms of head injury include coma, confusion, drowsiness, personality change, seizures, nausea and vomiting, headache and a lucid interval, during which a patient appears conscious only to deteriorate later.
Symptoms of skull fracture can include:
Because brain injuries can be life-threatening, even people with apparently slight injuries, with no noticeable signs or complaints, require close observation; They have a chance for severe symptoms later on. The caretakers of those patients with mild trauma who are released from the hospital are frequently advised to rouse the patient several times during the next 12 to 24 hours to assess for worsening symptoms.
The Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) is a tool for measuring degree of unconsciousness and is thus a useful tool for determining severity of injury. The Pediatric Glasgow Coma Scale is used in young children. The widely used PECARN Pediatric Head Injury/Trauma Algorithm helps physicians weigh risk-benefit of imaging in a clinical setting given multiple factors about the patient - including mechanism/location of injury, age of patient, and GCS score.
Common causes of head injury are motor vehicle traffic collisions, home and occupational accidents, falls, and assaults. Wilson's disease has also been indicative of head injury.According to the United States CDC, 32% of traumatic brain injuries (another, more specific, term for head injuries) are caused by falls, 10% by assaults, 16.5% by being struck or against something, 17% by motor vehicle accidents, 21% by other/unknown ways. In addition, the highest rate of injury is among children ages 0–14 and adults age 65 and older.
The need for imaging in patients who have suffered a minor head injury is debated. A non-contrast CT of the head should be performed immediately in all those who have suffered a moderate or severe head injury,an MRI is also an option.Computed tomography (CT) has become the diagnostic modality of choice for head trauma due to its accuracy, reliability, safety, and wide availability. The changes in microcirculation, impaired auto-regulation, cerebral edema, and axonal injury start as soon as head injury occurs and manifest as clinical, biochemical, and radiological changes.
Clinicians will often consult clinical decision support rules such as the Canadian CT Head Rule or the New Orleans/Charity Head injury/Trauma Rule to decide if the patient needs further imaging studies or observation only. Rules like these are usually studied in depth by multiple research groups with large patient cohorts to ensure accuracy given the risk of adverse events in this area.
In children with uncomplicated minor head injuries the risk of intra cranial bleeding over the next year is rare at 2 cases per 1 million.In some cases transient neurological disturbances may occur, lasting minutes to hours. Malignant post traumatic cerebral swelling can develop unexpectedly in stable patients after an injury, as can post traumatic seizures. Recovery in children with neurologic deficits will vary. Children with neurologic deficits who improve daily are more likely to recover, while those who are vegetative for months are less likely to improve. Most patients without deficits have full recovery. However, persons who sustain head trauma resulting in unconsciousness for an hour or more have twice the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease later in life.
Head injury may be associated with a neck injury. Bruises on the back or neck, neck pain, or pain radiating to the arms are signs of cervical spine injury and merit spinal immobilization via application of acervical collar and possibly a long board.If the neurological exam is normal this is reassuring. Reassessment is needed if there is a worsening headache, seizure, one sided weakness, or has persistent vomiting.
To combat overuse of Head CT Scans yielding negative intracranial hemorrhage, which unnecessarily expose patients to radiation and increase time in the hospital and cost of the visit, multiple clinical decision support rules have been developed to help clinicians weigh the option to scan a patient with a head injury. Among these are the Canadian Head CT rule, the PECARN Head Injury/Trauma Algorithm, and the New Orleans/Charity Head Injury/Trauma Rule all help clinicians make these decisions using easily obtained information and noninvasive practices.