22nd June, 20203 min read

How to tell if you have a serious head injury

Medical reviewer:
Healthily's medical team
Healthily's medical team
Tomas Duffin
Tomas Duffin
Last reviewed: 23/06/2020
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

If you’ve had a serious blow to your skull or scalp you should seek medical attention immediately, because there’s a risk of bleeding and blood clots, which could lead to permanent brain damage.

Head injury is a leading cause of death and disability and knowing when an injury could be serious, will enable you to get help sooner.

What is a head injury?

A head injury is a general term used to describe any injury to the skull, scalp or brain. It’s usually caused by a sudden impact or jolt to the head.

How can you tell if a head injury is serious?

Signs and symptoms of a head injury can be subtle and difficult to identify.

If the head was caused by a forceful blow to the head at speed you should call an ambulance, regardless of any other symptoms.

If you or someone you know has become unconscious or unresponsive as a result of a head injury, this is another reason to get medical help immediately.

Another warning sign is when a person experiences concussion, showing signs of memory loss, dizziness, confusion, blurred or double vision or trouble balancing or staying awake.

Fits or seizures also suggest a serious injury, as well as changes in mood (like becoming more irritable), continuous vomiting and swelling or bruising around the eyes or behind the ears.

At the hospital, doctors will ask a series of questions and are likely to take a CT scan to see the extent of your injury and provide a diagnosis.

What happens if a head injury goes untreated?

A serious head injury can cause bleeding, blood clots or a build-up of fluid in the brain. This can then put pressure on the brain and lead to temporary or permanent brain damage.

If your skull has been fractured, this could lead to an infection as bacteria can enter through any skin that’s been broken.

If left untreated, a serious head injury can also cause impaired consciousness, where a person is less aware or conscious, for example if they are in a coma or vegetative state.

Can head injury symptoms be delayed?

Sometimes head injury symptoms may not be noticeable at the time of an injury. Symptoms usually start within 24 hours but they may take up to 3 weeks to appear.

If you’re at all worried about a head injury get it checked by a doctor. They should be able to tell you whether it’s serious or refer you for further tests.

Was this article helpful?

We include references at the end of every article, so you know where we get our facts. We only ever take evidence from medically-recognised sources, approved by the UK National Health Service's The Information Standard, or certified by Health On the Net (HON). When we talk about popular health trends or claims, we'll always tell you if there's very little or no evidence to back them up. Our medical team also checks our sources, making sure they're appropriate and that we've interpreted the science correctly.

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.