Serious Head Injury

What is it?

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is caused by a blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the normal function of the brain. Not all blows or jolts to the head result in a TBI. The severity of a TBI may range from “mild,” i.e., a brief change in mental status or consciousness to “severe,” i.e., an extended period of unconsciousness or amnesia after the injury.

Signs & symptoms that are cause for concern

It can be difficult to recognize symptoms of traumatic brain injury. Subtle symptoms can conceal serious brain damage, so immediate medical care is crucial to diagnose, treat, and cope with traumatic brain injury.

Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Symptoms (Concussion)

Immediate Symptoms

  • Confusion
  • Headache
  • Temporary memory loss
  • Loss of consciousness (less than 30 minutes)
  • Ringing in the ear
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Slurred speech

Delayed or Secondary Symptoms:

  • Mood swings
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Memory problems
  • Sensitivity to lights and sounds
  • Change in sense of smell or taste
  • Trouble with balance
Moderate to Severe Traumatic Brain Injury Symptoms

Immediate Symptoms

  • Loss of consciousness (more than 30 minutes)
  • Dilated pupils
  • Blurred vision or vision loss
  • Dizziness
  • Slow pulse
  • Slow breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Drowsiness
  • Headache or migraine
  • Confusion
  • Ringing in the ears or hearing loss

Delayed or Secondary Symptoms

  • Inability to think clearly
  • Amnesia
  • Spinal fluid (watery liquid) coming out of the ears or nose
  • Paralysis
  • Emotional problems (irritability, depression)
  • Slurred speech
  • Numbness in limbs
  • Loss of bowel control
  • Coma
  • Epilepsy or seizures

What do I do?

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of a severe head injury, it is very important to know when to call your doctor, how to get the necessary treatment, and how to prevent this injury in the future.

Treatment

Immediate medical treatment should be obtained after someone suffers a severe head injury. The doctor will determine the severity of the injury and the proper course of treatment. Traumatic brain injuries usually require a lot of rest and over-the-counter pain relievers. A person with a traumatic brain injury also needs to be monitored closely at home for any persistent, worsening or new symptoms. He or she also may have follow-up doctor appointments. The doctor will indicate when a return to work, school or recreational activities is appropriate. It's best to avoid physical or thinking (cognitive) activities until symptoms have stopped. Most people return to normal routines gradually.

Prevention

  • Wear a seat belt every time you are in a car
  • Never drive while under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Wear a helmet when riding a bike, skiing/snowboarding, playing a contact sport

Resources

Georgetown Emergency Response Medical Service (GERMS)
Village C West 206
(202) 687-4357

Student Health Center
Darnall Hall Ground Floor
To make an appt: (202) 687-2200
After hours clinician on-call: (202) 444-7243

Georgetown University Hospital
3800 Reservoir Road
Emergency Room
Call 911