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Cerebral Contusions and Lacerations

By

Gordon Mao

, MD, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

Last full review/revision Jun 2021| Content last modified Jun 2021
Click here for the Professional Version

Cerebral contusions are bruises of the brain, usually caused by a direct, strong blow to the head. Cerebral lacerations are tears in brain tissue, caused by a foreign object or pushed-in bone fragment from a skull fracture.

  • Motor vehicle crashes and blows to the head are common causes of bruises and tears of brain tissue.

  • Symptoms of mild or severe head injury develop.

  • Computed tomography is done.

  • The person is observed in the hospital and sometimes needs surgery.

Cerebral contusions and lacerations involve structural brain damage and thus are more serious than concussions Concussion A concussion is an alteration in mental function or level of awareness caused by a head injury. A concussion may involve a loss of consciousness, can occur without obvious damage to brain structures... read more , which are an alteration in mental function or level of awareness caused by an injury that does not cause visible damage to brain structures.

Contusions may be caused by the sudden fast movement (acceleration) of the brain against the skull after a jolt—as may be delivered by a forceful blow to the head—or by the sudden stopping (deceleration) that occurs when a moving head strikes an immovable object (as when a person's head hits the dashboard or the steering wheel in a frontal-impact motor vehicle crash). The brain can be damaged at the point of impact and on the opposite side when it strikes the inside of the skull. Contusions may get larger in the hours and days after the injury, causing brain function to deteriorate.

Contusions and lacerations can cause bleeding or swelling in the brain.

Contusions and lacerations may be very small, causing only minimal damage to the brain, with few symptoms or symptoms of minor head injury. However, if injuries are large or if swelling or bleeding from a small injury is severe, people may have symptoms of severe head injury Severe head injury Head injuries that involve the brain are particularly concerning. Common causes of head injuries include falls, motor vehicle crashes, assaults, and mishaps during sports and recreational activities... read more . For example, people often are unconscious for a short time (such as a few minutes or less) or longer. When awake, people often are drowsy, confused, restless, or agitated. They may also have vomiting, seizures, or impaired balance or coordination. The ability to think, control emotions, move, feel, speak, see, hear, smell, and remember may be impaired. A more severe injury causes swelling within the brain, damaging brain tissue further. Herniation of the brain Herniation: The Brain Under Pressure Head injuries that involve the brain are particularly concerning. Common causes of head injuries include falls, motor vehicle crashes, assaults, and mishaps during sports and recreational activities... read more may result, sometimes leading to coma Stupor and Coma Stupor is unresponsiveness from which a person can be aroused only by vigorous, physical stimulation. Coma is unresponsiveness from which a person cannot be aroused and in which the person's... read more .

Doctors do computed tomography (CT) to diagnose a contusion or laceration.

If bleeding and swelling in the brain are minor, people are hospitalized and observed, usually for up to a week.

If bleeding is severe, doctors treat them as if they had a severe head injury Severe head injury Head injuries that involve the brain are particularly concerning. Common causes of head injuries include falls, motor vehicle crashes, assaults, and mishaps during sports and recreational activities... read more . Often people are admitted to an intensive care unit. Doctors keep the blood pressure and blood levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide at desirable levels. To help people breathe, doctors may give them supplemental oxygen through a face mask or insert a breathing tube through the mouth into the windpipe and provide them with mechanical ventilation Mechanical Ventilation Mechanical ventilation is use of a machine to aid the movement of air into and out of the lungs. Some people with respiratory failure need a mechanical ventilator (a machine that helps air get... read more .

Pain is treated as needed. People may need to be sedated because too much muscle activity can increase the pressure in the brain and further affect brain function. Fever is treated. If seizures occur, anticonvulsants are given.

To measure pressure in the brain, doctors may implant a pressure gauge inside the skull or insert a catheter into one of the internal spaces (ventricles) within the brain.

If bleeding leads to herniation, the blood may need to be surgically removed to prevent compression of the brain. However, if removing the blood involves removing brain tissue, then brain function may eventually become impaired.

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
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