Can Head Trauma Cause a Stroke?

With increased awareness of the serious impact of head trauma over the past few years, a frequent question is whether head trauma can cause strokes. Many well-known athletes have spoken about traumatic brain injury and how it has affected their lives years after discontinuing sports. Research in traumatic brain injury has also pointed to an association between traumatic brain injury and stroke.

Doctor examining a patient
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Traumatic Brain Injury

Traumatic brain injury can cause brain damage. After head trauma, there may be bleeding in the brain, which irritates brain tissue. Bleeding also decreases blood flow to the brain due to blood leakage from the torn blood vessel. Swelling may occur, putting pressure in brain tissue. Bruises in the brain may take a long time to heal.

A concussion is a specific type of traumatic brain injury that is also now recognized as a cause of long-term problems. A concussion is head trauma that results in short-term impairment such as dizziness, memory loss, blurred vision, or loss of consciousness. Even after recovery from a concussion, people may have long-term neurological and psychological problems, often referred to as post-concussive symptoms or post-concussive syndrome.

Increased Hemorrhagic Strokes

There is an association between head trauma and an increased incidence of hemorrhagic strokes in the years that follow. Hemorrhagic strokes are episodes of bleeding in the brain, which may be due to a defect in the blood vessel or severe high blood pressure. A hemorrhagic stroke causes brain irritation in the area of bleeding, as well as extreme changes in the blood pressure and blood vessel diameter which may cause even further damage. Hemorrhagic strokes progress quickly and can cause serious harm.

Increased Ischemic Strokes

Ischemic strokes are strokes due to blockage of a blood vessel in the brain, causing the diminished blood supply to a region of the brain. Studies show that there is an increased incidence of ischemic strokes in the years after head trauma.

Bleeding and Clotting Problems

A research study done in China, published in the August issue of Biomed Research International examined the increase in hemorrhagic and ischemic strokes in patients admitted to the neurosurgery ward of Sixth People’s Hospital, affiliated with Shanghai Jiaotong University. Researchers noted an increased incidence of both hemorrhagic and ischemic strokes after head trauma. This may be partially explained by alterations in the body’s ability to form blood clots after an episode of head trauma. The changes in blood clotting after head trauma are erratic and unpredictable and thus may cause either increased hemorrhagic strokes or increased ischemic strokes.

Worsened Recovery From Strokes

The relationship between traumatic brain injury and stroke recovery has also been examined. An article published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings in February 2014 points not only to an increased incidence of strokes after traumatic brain injury but also to a worsened recovery after a stroke.

Traumatic Brain Injury causes brain damage and decreases the brain’s 'reserve.' This may be one of the reasons that it is more difficult to recover from a stroke that occurs after head trauma.

Prevention of Traumatic Brain Injury 

Prevention of brain injury is now recognized as a way to protect yourself against stroke.

The best approach is to prevent traumatic brain injury. Fortunately, one of the most effective deterrents to head trauma is just a simple safety belt in the car.

Other important precautions against head trauma include wearing helmets and proper headgear for sports and adventure activities, including biking and skiing and snowboarding.

Another valuable safety measure for preventing head trauma includes avoiding alcohol and drugs that alter perception and judgment when operating heavy machinery- including cars, motorcycles, lawnmowers and factory equipment.

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