Hundreds of thousands of closed head injuries occur each year in the United States. Two of the most-common causes are traffic accidents and falls. Very simply, and as explained on the U.S. Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus website, “A closed head injury means you received a hard blow to the head from striking an object, but the object did not break the skull.”
That definition could make a closed head injury like no big deal. After all, the other category for head injuries is “open, or penetrating … hit with an object that broke the skull and entered the brain.” Surely, the skull remaining intact means you will experience few symptoms and recover quickly.
No. Every closed head injury deserves to be taken seriously. Concussions, which doctors call mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBI), are closed head injuries. So are bleeding on and swelling of the brain. A concussion will not kill you outright, but uncontrolled hemorrhaging surely will.
Going to the doctor after hitting your head in a crash or fall always makes sense. Symptoms of a concussion or brain bleed may not develop until hours or days following an accident. At the same time, quick diagnosis and treatment can lessen the severity and duration of short-term symptoms. If nothing else, why deal with headaches, dizziness, blurred vision and mental confusion longer than necessary?
Lifelong Problems Can Develop
Up to a third of TBI victims continue experiencing symptoms at three months after the incident to caused their closed head injury. Worse, the damage to brain tissue may never heal and could grow worse over time.
Research done over the past two decades has revealed clear links between concussions and serious problems like dementia later in life. A literature review published in the Journal of Neurotrauma in 2015, summarized the findings up to that point in this way:
Several studies have emphasized that months to years after injury, evidence for progressive gray and white matter (GM/WM) atrophy is observed after TBI. … Recently, the importance of repetitive episodes of mild TBI have also been emphasized in the trauma literature. Various publications have demonstrated the potential for repetitive insults producing cumulative effects and leading to long-term consequences, including age-related neuro-degenerative disorders (i.e., CTE and Alzheimer’s disease [AD]).
In much less clinical language, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes on its website that
A TBI can cause a wide range of functional short- or long-term changes affecting:
- Thinking (i.e., memory and reasoning);
- Sensation (i.e., sight and balance);
- Language (i.e., communication, expression, and understanding); and
- Emotion (i.e., depression, anxiety, personality changes, aggression, acting out, and social inappropriateness).
It remains unclear whether the severity of a concussion or brain bleed determines the likelihood that a person will experience long-term consequences. But the undeniable possibility that a closed head injury could negatively impact a person’s life for decades should dispel any belief that a concussion is just “getting your bell rung.”