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"Head injury" is a broad term that describes a vast array of injuries that occur to the scalp, skull, brain and underlying tissue and blood vessels in the head.

Head injuries are commonly referred to as brain injury, or traumatic brain injury (TBI), depending on the extent of the head trauma.

The person may have varying degrees of symptoms associated with the severity of the head injury. The following are the most common symptoms of a head injury. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. The symptoms of a head injury may resemble other problems or medical conditions. Always consult your physician.

Symptoms of Mild Head Injury (Including Concussion)

  • Raised, swollen area from a bump or a bruise
  • Small, superficial (shallow) cut in the scalp
  • Headache
  • Sensitivity to noise and light
  • Irritability
  • Confusion
  • Lightheadedness and/or dizziness
  • Problems with balance
  • Nausea
  • Problems with memory and/or concentration
  • Change in sleep patterns
  • Blurred vision
  • "Tired" eyes
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Alteration in taste
  • Fatigue/lethargy

Concussions are a form of mild traumatic brain injury (TBI). TBI is likely underreported, since many patients do not seek medical care or do so at facilities that do not record this information. Inova has concussion programs at Inova Fairfax Hospital, Inova Loudoun Hospital and Inova Mount Vernon Hospital.

Moderate to Severe Head Injury (Seek Immediate Medical Attention)

Symptoms may include any of the symptoms to the left plus:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Severe headache that does not go away
  • Repeated nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of short-term memory, such as difficulty remembering the events that led right up to and through the traumatic event
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty with walking
  • Weakness in one side or area of the body
  • Sweating
  • Seizures or convulsions
  • Behavior changes including irritability
  • Blood or clear fluid draining from the ears or nose
  • One pupil (dark area in the center of the eye) looks larger than the other eye
  • Deep cut or laceration in the scalp
  • Open wound in the head
  • Foreign object penetrating the head
  • Coma (a state of unconsciousness from which a person cannot be awakened; responds only minimally, if at all, to stimuli; and exhibits no voluntary activities)
  • Vegetative state (a condition of brain damage in which a person has lost his thinking abilities and awareness of his surroundings, but retains some basic functions such as breathing and blood circulation)
  • Locked-in syndrome (a neurological condition in which a person is conscious and can think and reason, but cannot speak or move)

Treatment for brain injury is individualized, depending on the extent of the condition and the presence of other injuries. If the patient has a severe head injury, he or she may require monitoring for increased intracranial pressure (pressure inside the skull). Head injury may cause the brain to swell. Since the brain is covered by the skull, there is only a small amount of room for it to swell. This causes pressure inside the skull to increase, which can lead to brain damage.

Serious brain injury requires highly specialized care, available through the Inova Neurotrauma and Neurocritical Care Program. For concussion treatment, the Inova Concussion Program provides a multi-disciplinary approach to diagnosis and treatment. For all available services, call 703-776-4700 for more information.