More than 1 million head injuries occur every year in the United States.
From these injuries, 52,000 individuals die, and 800,000 persons have permanent
disability. These injuries cost more than $40 billion each year. Because head
injuries (also known as traumatic brain injuries)
are common and may have such devastating effects, preventing them is critical.
Traumatic brain injury is the result of a blow to the head. This can
come from a fall, a vehicle crash, an assault, or shaking a baby. The brain
tissue itself may be hurt, the blood vessels can rupture and cause bleeding,
or a combination of these injuries may occur. Concussion (a temporary loss of brain function), contusion (bruising of the brain), fracture (broken
skull bones), and hematoma (blood clot) are all types
of traumatic brain injury. The June 11, 2003, issue of JAMA includes an article about use of hypothermia (lowered body temperature) in treating traumatic brain injury.
Loss of consciousness
Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
Nausea or vomiting
Wear a seatbelt when riding in a motor vehicle.
Wear a helmet for motorcycle riding, bicycle riding, or other
activities that risk head injury.
Use alcohol only in moderation and never while driving or boating.
Assist the elderly in maintaining a safe environment and preventing
Computed tomographic (CT) scan tests
use high-speed x-rays. CT images can show swelling, bleeding, or compression
of brain tissue.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests
use magnetic energy to produce detailed pictures of brain tissue, bones, and
Oxygen may be given by mask, nasal tubing, or ventilator (breathing machine). Individuals who are unconscious (comatose) may require a ventilator to breathe for them.
Medicines to prevent or treat seizures, decrease brain swelling,
control agitation, or control blood pressure may be given to patients with
brain injury. The more severe the injury, the more medications and treatments
Hypothermia (lowered body temperature)
has been shown in some medical studies to help improve recovery after a severe
traumatic brain injury. This must be done as part of intensive care for a
severe brain injury and must be carefully monitored. Further research is required
to determine the effectiveness of this treatment.
After the acute phase (first part) of
care for the injury, persons with traumatic brain injury often receive intensive
rehabilitation to maximize their functional level (make
the most of what they are able to do) and improve their overall recovery.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokehttp://www.ninds.nih.gov
Brain Injury Association of America800/444-6443http://www.biausa.org
Brain Trauma Foundation212/772-0608http://www.braintrauma.org
To find this and previous JAMA Patient Pages, go to the Patient Page
link on JAMA's Web site at http://www.jama.com. Many are available in English and Spanish. A Patient Page on preventing
head injury was published in the September 8, 1999, issue.
The JAMA Patient Page is a public service of JAMA. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate
in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For
specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA suggests that you consult your physician. This page may be photocopied
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Sources: National Institute of Neurological Disorders
and Stroke, Brain Injury Association of America, Brain Trauma Foundation
Torpy JM, Lynm C, Glass RM. Traumatic Brain Injury. JAMA. 2003;289(22):3038. doi:10.1001/jama.289.22.2910