Treating severe head injuries

A treatment to a severe head injury must happen quickly to avoid increasing the risk of permanent brain damage or death. Symptoms of a severe head injury can include:

  • unconsciousness – the patient collapses and is unresponsive
  • concussion – a short loss of mental function after a blow to the head
  • fits or seizures
  • difficulty speaking, walking or with coordination
  • hearing and memory loss or double vision

The emergency services should be called immediately for someone with a severe head injury. Patients with brain injuries will have a computed tomography scan (CT scan). This takes a series of x-rays which are assembled by a computer into a very detailed scan.

Treatment for a severe head injury can include:

  • observation to ensure the condition does not get worse
  • running tests for further damage like infection or swelling
  • treating these secondary issues
  • breathing support if the person cannot breathe for themselves
  • medical operations to reduce swelling, remove blood or other fluid

Any medical operation that occurs to treat a brain injury is highly specialised. Not many doctors are able to do this very detailed and intricate work. It is very difficult to easily access all parts of the brain during an operation. Mistakes here can lead to further brain injury by causing irreversible damage to the surrounding areas.

The brain does not repair itself like other organs in the human body. Damage to the brain is often permanent. So some brain damage means a change in consciousness. Patients can enter a coma and become unconscious. They can remain conscious but enter a minimally conscious state where they require lifelong care.

Brain injuries can leave a patient with increased risk of epileptic fits. Other issues can include:

  • difficulty with coordination
  • hormonal problems if the pituitary gland is damaged
  • losing smell and taste
  • changes in emotions and behaviour