If you’ve just hit your head, you may think it’s natural to go to the emergency room to get yourself checked out. This seems to be a trend in America – more people are visiting the emergency room for head injuries. But, is it because of the increased awareness of the long-term effects of a concussion or is it because more people are banging up their heads? Or, is the data actually misleading?
Some experts believe it’s a little bit of both. Others disagree with the assertion that head injuries have risen. Here are the facts:
The risk of head injuries has indeed risen.
A recent Washington Post headline would have us believe that the risk of head injuries is on the rise – especially in cities where bike share programs exist. What is a bike share program? It’s a program where community bikes are offered to the general public. Think of it as a library of bikes. If you need a bike for an afternoon, you can rent or borrow one from the stock of publicly-available bikes.
When you’re finished with it, you return it. In cities where these programs exist, researchers did find that the risk of head injury increased by 14 percent for anyone who rode bicycles. That much is true. But, it doesn’t tell the entire story.
Emergency room visits have actually gone down, not up.
The research, which took injury data from trauma center databases and registries in various American and Canadian cities shows that head injuries actually rose from 42 percent to 50 percent in five cities where bike-share programs were put into place, and only then as a proportion of total cyclist injuries.
Total injuries fell more in those five cities than they did in control cities with no bike-share program. The thing is, cyclist head injuries didn’t fall as much as total injuries, so it looks like an increase in head injuries.
The reality is that all injuries declined by about 28 percent in cities that have implemented a bike-share program. Injuries to the head have declined 14 percent. In control group cities, injuries increased by 6 percent.
A new study says emergency room visits for traumatic brain injury may be on the rise.
The study is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, and analyzes trends in ER visits that are linked to traumatic brain injuries. In contrast to head injuries specific to bike accidents, this research looked at total traumatic brain injuries and showed that the number of ER visits have risen by almost 30 percent since 2006.
Total ER visits over the same time period have risen just 3.6 percent. What explains this? It could be a rise in younger people playing sports or more awareness of what a traumatic brain injury is, which leads to better reporting.
What to do if you bump your head.
Not all bumps require an emergency room visit, but many (re: most) head injuries do. Trauma usually occurs when there is injury to the scalp, skull, or brain. The injury might only be a minor bump on the head.
If you just bump your head on something, and there’s no penetration, bleeding, or any visible signs of injury, don’t take that as a sign that you’re OK. You could actually be very seriously injured. If the event took place on someone else’s property, and you have any doubts about whether you should go to the hospital, go. Don’t go tomorrow. Go now. If the incident happened in a workplace or on third party property, it’s a good idea to get in touch with a specialized lawyer, like Meltzer Taylor to discuss your situation from a legal standpoint.
Head injuries are expensive, and not just financially. They can carry both short and long-term health risks. The most immediate risk posed by even a small concussion is death. When you hit your head, there is always a risk that you will start bleeding internally. This bleeding, called epidural and subdural hematoma, can cause the brain to swell or be pushed against the foramen magnum – the small hole in the base of the skull.
If this happens, your body could shut down centers in the brain responsible for breathing and a stable heartbeat – obviously not a good thing.
So, if you experience a headache, vomiting, dizziness, any amnesia, loss of consciousness, a feeling of confusion or of being “dazed,” or a seizure, it’s time to make a trip to the ER. Sometimes, these symptoms don’t happen immediately, especially if the brain bleed is slow. Pay attention to your body for days, even weeks after the injury.
If you’re bleeding or you (or anyone else) see any physical injury to the head, go to the ER immediately. You are at serious risk and delaying treatment can have lasting or fatal consequences.
Susan Beaumont is in her final year studying injury law. She loves sharing her research and insights online through blogging. Her articles mainly focus on current legal and medical issues.