February 11, 2022

Don’t Ignore Head Trauma: What You Need to Know If You Hit Your Head

photo of Bob Saget

Medically reviewed by John Serak, MD

There’s a good chance you or someone you know has bumped their head before and wondered if there was a reason for concern. Many times a bump on the head is just that. Your skull provides strong protection against minor falls and injuries. However, some injuries can be severe and result in a skull fracture, concussion, or traumatic brain injury.

Head trauma has gained visibility in recent weeks after the sudden death of actor and comedian Bob Saget. The Full House star’s death shocked the nation in January. This week, autopsy reports revealed his cause of death as “accidental head trauma”. 

“The authorities have determined that Bob passed from head trauma. They have concluded that he accidentally hit the back of his head on something, thought nothing of it, and went to sleep,” a statement from the actor’s family said. “No drugs or alcohol were involved.”

John Serak, MD, neurosurgeon with Baptist Health Medical Group, says it’s important not to brush off a head injury, especially if you are alone.

“If a person suffers trauma to the head with loss of consciousness or lasting headache, dizziness or nausea vomiting, they should seek medical attention especially if they do not have a trustworthy person that could call 911 if symptoms were to worsen over time,” Dr. Serak said.

What is a Head Injury or Head Trauma?

Head injury is a broad term used to describe a wide variety of injuries that can happen to the skull, scalp, brain, or underlying tissues. They are one of the most common causes of disability and death in adults. In fact, nearly 1.7 million people have a traumatic brain injury (TBI) each year and account for over 1 in 6 injury-related hospital admissions each year.

Types of Head Injuries

Head injuries can range from mild, merely a bump or bruise on the head, to severe, like a skull fracture or a TBI. Some common types of head injuries include:

  • Concussion: A type of brain injury caused by a blow to the head or violent shaking of the head or body. Concussions can occur with or without loss of consciousness and can lead to cognitive symptoms including headache, confusion, lack of coordination, memory loss, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, ringing in the ears, sleepiness, and excessive fatigue.
  • Skull Fracture: A break in the skull bone. There are four types of skull fractures – linear, depressed, diastatic, and basilar.
  • Intracranial hematoma (ICH): A blood clot in or around the brain. These can range from mild to life-threatening and are classified by their location: epidural hematoma, subdural hematoma, contusion or intracerebral hematoma, and diffuse axonal injury (often seen in shaken baby syndrome). 

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What Causes Head Trauma?

There are many potential causes of head trauma in adults and children. Some of the most likely include:

  • Accidents at home, work, school, outdoors, or while playing sports
  • Falls
  • Physical assault or abuse
  • Traffic accidents

What are the Symptoms of Head Trauma?

Symptoms of head trauma vary by severity and location of the injury. 

“Loss of conscious and/or excessive sleepiness or non-responsiveness after head injury as well as the symptoms listed under “moderate to severe head injuries” below are red flag signs that a person needs to seek urgent medical attention,” Dr. Serak said. “Less severe symptoms like the ones listed under “mild head injuries” may be closely observed, but persistent or worsening symptoms should prompt a visit to a medical professional.”

Common symptoms of head injuries may include:

  • Mild Head Injuries:
  • Moderate to Severe Head Injuries (may include any of the above, plus):
    • Loss of consciousness
    • Severe headache that does not improve
    • Continued nausea or vomiting 
    • Loss of short-term memory
    • Slurred speech
    • Difficulty walking
    • Weakness
    • Sweating
    • Pale coloration
    • Unequal size pupils
    • Seizures
    • Coma
    • Locked-in syndrome

Seek emergency medical attention if you notice any of the above moderate to severe symptoms, if there is significant head or facial bleeding, the person is confused, unusually tired or unconscious, or stops breathing. 

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How is Head Trauma Diagnosed?

The extent of a head injury may not be immediately understood without medical attention and/or testing. Your healthcare provider will perform a physical exam and will ask for a full medical history, including details about how the head trauma occurred. Diagnostic tests may be needed to confirm or determine the scope of a head injury. 

Those may include:

How is Head Trauma Treated?

Your care team will create a treatment plan that accounts for your age, health and medical history, and the extent and type of your head injury. Treatment can and should vary based on the specific factors that present in each patient. 

Common treatment options include:

  • Ice
  • Rest
  • Observation
  • Stitches (in the case of scalp wounds)
  • Hospitalization
  • Sedation
  • Surgery

Head Trauma Prevention Tips

Not all head injuries can be avoided, but there are steps you can take to better protect yourself and your loved ones:

  • Wear a helmet when engaging in activities that could lead to injury, such as skiing, skating, or riding a bike or motorcycle.
  • Always wear a seatbelt.
  • Ensure children are properly restrained in age-appropriate car seats or booster seats.
  • Never drink and drive.
  • Implement fall prevention tips at home, like securing loose cords, removing clutter, wearing sensible shoes, and ensuring your spaces are properly lit. 

Seek Help from Baptist Health

Unfortunately, the odds are that you or someone you know will experience a head injury. The good news is that you don’t have to navigate this health issue alone. 

“Persistent symptoms after even mild head injury should not be ignored, especially if a person is older or taking blood thinners or aspirin,” Dr. Serak said. “Bleeding in or around the brain may occur on a delayed basis, and can cause symptoms even weeks after head injury.”

Baptist Health has teams of highly-qualified healthcare providers to walk with you every step of the way. Find a Baptist Health Urgent Care or Emergency Department near you, or team up with one of our exceptional providers via our online provider directory.

Next Steps and Useful Resources

Find a Provider
How to Prevent Head and Brain Injuries
How Do Doctors Test for Concussions?
A Guide to Headaches

Learn More.