When to Go to the Hospital


People who've just had their brains jostled may be in no condition to decide if they need medical care. And the people around them may not know that hitting your head can be dangerous even if you don't lose consciousness. How do you know when you should go to the hospital after having "your bell rung"?


Going to the hospital after a head injury can mean the difference between life and death. But how do you know when to go? This can seem like a difficult decision, but let me sum up the answer for you: when in doubt, go to the hospital. Not later. Not tomorrow. Now!

Here's why.

The hospital is the only place that has a CAT scanner that can "look" inside your head and determine if there is any bleeding in your brain. Bleeding in the brain can be life-threatening when there is enough blood in the right spot to press down on the brain and squeeze it. These dangerous forms of bleeding are called epidural and subdural hematomas. Because the brain is trapped inside the skull, slow bleeding can force important parts of the brain against the inside of the skull and through the small hole in the base of the skull called the foramen magnum. These important brain areas, which control breathing and heart rate, stop working when they get squeezed and this is what results in death. With a CAT scan, epidural and subdural hematomas are easily diagnosed. The treatment requires surgery to remove the blood clot. The quicker the surgery, the better the chances for a good outcome.

So, how do you know when to go to the hospital? The decision is easy if you're the one making it for someone else and that person is not responding to you or looks asleep. This is called coma. The risk of a subdural or epidural hematoma in comatose head injured patients is high and you should summon an ambulance immediately!

But what if the head injury doesn't cause a coma? What if the head injury just causes a brief loss of consciousness, brief period of amnesia, or a sensation of feeling dazed? A person who has such an injury — termed concussion or mild traumatic brain injury — can look, and even feel, just fine. The problem is, even though the person looks good on the outside, inside the skull there is a small chance that slow bleeding is taking place. After a concussion, the chances of this happening are not large — about 1 in 1000 — but the only way to diagnose it is with that hospital-based CAT scan.

Here are the symptoms of a concussion that should prompt an immediate trip to the hospital or emergency department.

  • Loss of consciousness, even if only briefly
  • Any period of amnesia, or loss of memory for the event
  • Feeling dazed or confused
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Seizure
  • In addition, for children under 2 years of age, any scalp swelling or abnormality in the way they usually behave.

One word of caution: because any brain injury — even a concussion — has the potential to injure the brain, the brain-injured patient may lack the judgment to make an informed decision regarding whether or not to go to the hospital. Family and friends can be instrumental in helping the patient chose a course of action that is best for him or her. And when in doubt, go to the hospital!

When in doubt, go to the hospital!


Please remember, we are not able to give medical or legal advice. If you have medical concerns, please consult your doctor. All posted comments are the views and opinions of the poster only.

Posted on BrainLine April 8, 2009. Reviewed March 28, 2019.

Comments (790)

Please remember, we are not able to give medical or legal advice. If you have medical concerns, please consult your doctor. All posted comments are the views and opinions of the poster only.

my son had a car accident. bloody nose and swollen lip ...that was yesterday,'today he fell twice losing his balance and went to ER. they checked him over said no worry ,,,shouldn’t they have done more testing?

If I got into a fight and they hit my head by my temple several times should I go to the hospital? I been having headaches, pain on my temple, loss of appetite.


Definitely. Better to be safe than sorry

I hit my head hard enough to bust open above my eyebrow. That was two days ago now I'm not feeling quite myself. I'm super nauseated I have huge headaches and super sleepy. I went to a doctor but they said it'll go away in a couple days but but it just seems to be getting worse and I can't talk to my husband he just thinks it's stupid. What should I do?

56 yrs in otherwise good health female: Yesterday evening I rolled my ankle wearing wedge shoes, causing me to fall backwards in a parking lot, hitting the back of my head on the asphalt, which made a dull thud sound. A young guy helped me up. It hurt but I didn't cry or black out; no broken skin or bleeding. I felt unsteady, shaky, but after sitting in my car a few minutes, went on to the lecture I was headed to. I tracked with the presentation and did not get a significant headache which really surprised me. I took 400mg Ibuprofen just the same. No nausea developed or speech impairment, vision perhaps a bit off, but I thought it may have been the lecture hall lighting.

I iced when I went home 3 hours later, which actually made it hurt. This morning I feel a bit thick-headed, with some "tingling", maybe very slight nausea though not enough to not eat; took 600 mg ibuprofen. I'm moving a little slower- on purpose- and reluctant to make something out of nothing. I'm at work, reading and on the computer. Given these details, should I go be checked out? Thanks for your insight.

I was taking my gazebo down yesterday and a big wind came broke it. The metal rod broke hitting me in the top of the head. Bled a lot, instant headache. 36 hrs later the headache, neck ache still hurting. Should I be concerned?

I was rearranging and top part of my entertainment fell and hit top of my right side of head.. I didn’t go to the hospital.. it’s been two days.. so since yesterday I started to fell weird. Headaches, nauseated.. at time n can’t handle the sounds around me.. like I just want someone to squeeze my head.. I manage my day at work but later n the day it starts to bother me..

I was playing with my brother on the grass with a water gun and I was running towards him not that fast, maybe a faster-paced jog. I slipped because of the water and fell hard on my head in the grass. I just curled up in a ball in tried to wait for the pain to stop. Fast forward to 1 day in the future, my neck feels kinda stiff, uncomfortable, and somewhat slightly painful when I move. Is it normal? Am I just sensitive?

I fell on my side on the grass. Head did hit the grass but after a few mins. I hardly feel the pain. What are symptoms to look for

I have recently hit the back of my head against concrete, I was jumping on top of a bench but lost my balance. I fell on my back, and the back of my head bounced off the concrete hard. I had no bleeding of any sort that I can see or feel, but my left hand, neck, and right leg hurt. Is this enough for me to go to the hospital?

I had a fall from my horse showjumping and found myself outside the ring holding my horse, but cannot remember getting there. someone told the next day that I was out cold for at least 10 mins, but I was allowed to drive home with my horse alone. I now have a heavy headache at the back of my head.I am also type1 diabetic.

I hit my head on a box and went unconscious for just a few seconds and I do have memory of what happened but ever since then I haven't been able to sleep without waking up every hour feeling light headed or that's the only way I can explain it honestly I feel weird. Should I go to the hospital?

Yes. If you've lost consciousness (even momentary) you should definitely get check out by a medical professional!

I was just trying to do a hand stand, which was a really dumb idea but I crashed my head into the floor pretty hard there's a tiny bit of blood. LIKE TINY tiny in my hair. My head feels funny I feel kind of loopy and dizzy but I didn't lose cosciousness. My head hurts too. What should I do?

You should go to your local E R and from there they'll examine you and tell you what to do next.

If you've been feeling lightheaded headed, confused, have had your pupils change size or a headache ever since hitting your head, it's best to see a doctor just to be safe then sorry. As soon as possible. From asking a friend who's in medical school, blood on the surface is okay. If there's a dent it should be checked out. Hope you're good!

I have been blacking out for over two weeks now, I do not drink. My fiancé has to explain to me everyday what happened minutes before or the day before. I can’t remember 90% of the things I have said or done in the last two weeks. Should I go to the ER?

Do not drive. Do not get up to walk. If you can have your friend hand you the phone and dial 911 immediately. 911 operators are highly trained. They will stay on the phone until the rescue squad arrives.

Emergency Medical Technicians will access you in the ambulance, hook you to monitors and have you stabilized prior to arriving at the EMERGENCY ROOM.

I have seen this on numerous occasions and each person immediately called 911. Don't hesitate. Your next blackout could be your last.

You should have gone to a neurologist awhile ago. Recommendation see if a neurologist can get you in as soon as possible. Would probably be cheaper than going to the ER too.

Have you been and what did they say

Yes, definitely go to the E.R. Blacking out with no cause should be looked into and in some situations, can put you in danger. They may have to give you a brain scan. I hope you are okay!

Please respond.

I was in an extreme car accident 6 Yers ago and cut my head open, had bleeding in the brain, I’ve had two bad concussions in the past year and 3 days ago I got another concussion against the bus roof.

Been to two doctors and they both confirm it’s a concussion and worry about my TBI.

I’m on meds and everyone is telling me to get rest and that if I don’t feel better an hour after meds, then I should go to the hospital.

I don’t feel better yet they tell me to sleep it off.

My head is heavy. I'm nauseous. I feel dizzy. I keep having memory loss of the past two days and I can’t sleep.

What do I do?

It sounds like you're getting medical care. For now, rest and follow the doctor's directions. If any activity makes you feel worse, stop! Don't push yourself. Watch your amount of screen-time. Do you have a follow-up appointment with your doc?

I fell from a standing position and hit my head on the tile floor. I did not lose consciousness when I hit the floor but I have no memory of what caused the fall. I was bleeding and had terrible vertigo and head and neck pain so went by ambulance. I had a CAT scan and X-ray- no bleeding. They told my sister I did not have a concussion but I disagree. The Vertigo, constant headaches, sleepiness and shakiness are not my imagination. My sister and I argued over whether or not I had one - I don’t know why. I decided if I was okay then I would take a shower. The vertigo onslaught happened in the shower. I was terrified because I couldn’t get my balance. I tried calling for help but no one heard me. I blacked out and hit my head - again on the floor/side of bathtub. When I came to I freaked out. The Vertigo was still effecting me, I hurt my foot in some way, but I was mostly afraid I’d done real damage to my head, hammering it twice in less than a week. No bleeding this time except where I had apparently bit my lip. My brother-in-law had to get me out of the tub and half-carry me to my bed. He got me ice for my head. No one can take me to the hospital unless I call someone from church. Obviously, I can think and write so I guess I’m okay but the blackouts are scary. I don’t know what to do. Sometimes my family makes me feel like I am too ‘precious’ and navel-gaze too much. They think I should just get on with things and my symptoms will eventually go away. I’m not so sure. I don’t want to be stupid. I don’t know what to do.

Go to the hospital

I was lying on my side when my partner put a pillow over the right side of my head and punched me there. I felt like my brain separated for 2 seconds then the pain hit. Two weeks later, still having headaches. Do I wait it out?

You should definitely go to the E.R. and if you are in an abusive relationship you should let the nurse know. They have recourses and can possibly help you get away from it.

Hello, my mom fell in the grocery store. She hit the whole left side of her body. 2 weeks later. She’s feeling dizzy with a constant headache, nauseous, and has eye pain or her left side. Should she go to the hospital?

I’m sister was in an MVA contusion to left side of head. Diagnosed with concussion at hospital , had clear CT. Week later swelling in right side base few inches behind ear. Pain behind right eye. Swelling went from small swollen bump to area? Is this related?

i got slammed in the head when someone opened the door really hard. It hurt a lot but no bruise right away. i had a stomache ache that day and went straight home and slept. The next day it really hurt and i had a headache. I felt a bit nautious and dizzy but i am unsure if if it was because of that or my stomache. I put ice and it felt better. today i don't have a headache or feel particulary nautious, it also doesn't hurt as much. Should i still go to the doctors?

When in doubt go to hospital. ..its better to be safe then sorry! !!!hope you went!!!and all is well, God bless you!!!

Hi I fell down and I hit my head on a door next to me. I lost consciousness for like only a couple seconds and had a shooting pain through the back of my head. I started crying because this NEVER had happened to me before so I freaked out a little. I didn’t get any swelling on my head, but it does feel kinda bruised. My husband checked my blood pressure and said it was normal and I was probably just dehydrated and tired. (I don’t drink a lot of water nor sleep well.) At the moment I’m on vacation so I don’t have the ability to go to my primary care doctor for another month. My husband convinced me that I don’t have to go to the hospital, but I don’t know what to do at the moment to be honest. What should I do in the mean time, put ice on my head?

Definitely if you lost consciousness you should go to the doctor. that's a sign of something super serious. rather it may just be a concussion or something else.

I've never had a concussion before in my life even when I was in cheer and soccer but yesterday at work (I work with pizza and I had absolutely no traction on my shoes) I was kinda jogging and made a turn too fast and slammed my head on the floor and landed on my side ever since then I've had a None stop headache and I slept for 12 hours straight and I've felt nauseated, there no bump or bruise then but my husband checked today and there is a soft bump and a little bruising on my head and the side of my arm that I landed on. It feels a little bit better when I take Tylenol but I'm still having headaches and a little dizzy and ive started shaking..

sounds like a hell of a concussion to me

About 3 days ago I was showering and I accidentally hit the back of my head really hard with the soap holder, I felt everything move inside my head so I quickly kneeled down to rest. I thought I was bleeding but luckily I wasn’t. I’ve had bad headaches ever since, and the sides of my head really hurt sometimes out of the nowhere. My jaw also started hurting that day, it hurt to eat. I felt nauseous the day of and the day after, now it’s just sometimes. I just feel tired now and then but my headache comes and goes. Should I just wait a couple of more days to see if the symptoms go away?

I hit my head today on the cabinet corner pretty hard and I cried and I never cry with pain. I even didn’t cry when I broke my neck. But I’ve had a headache all day in the area and been dizzy on and off. It’s sensitive to the touch, no swelling though. I haven’t been able to eat at all since I hit my head today, I just have no desire to eat and I’m nauseated. Should I go to the hospital tonight for it?

5 days ago I fell in my yard, trip over a chair and hit the side of my head. The next day my skull was very tender to the touch where I fell. Just had a headache, but on the fourth day I have a black eye. should I go to the ER? just still having headaches.

In the article above the doctor mentions that headache is a symptom of concussion. Maybe give your primary care doc a call and see what they say?

I have epilepsy and had a grand mal. Fell in the garage and obviously hit my head. I usually always have a migraine with nausea following a seizure, and take meds as needed after a seizure. This time, I hit my head obviously quite hard. I had a goose egg swelling on the upper left back side of my head. No one witnessed the seizure. I actually didn’t feel bad quite as long as usual and my VNS was recently increased. It helps me recover faster. Anyway the goose egg remained, a few hours later it was time for bed and the area was sore. When I felt the area, there was swelling around the area where there was a knot but an indentation in the center. My husband came home after I regained consciousness and could get to my phone. Pupil dilation is normal. Cognitive, I mostly seem ok. I was concerned more because when I laid down to sleep had vertigo and still feel dizzy. Vision doesn’t seem affected.

Seems a good idea to seek medical attention -- at least reach out to your primary care doc!

I hit my the side of my face and head really hard falling over a small fence, I had a drink at the time but the next my check was really sore and my head, this was three days ago and I feel a bit fuzzy headed and my tinnitus has got worse, I'm sure if I should go hospital or not. I am able to drive etc.. But not sure if I'm panicking for nothing

When in doubt, get it checked out! Place a call to your primary care doctor's office and see what they say

i got hit with a wooden paddle on my forehead playing ping pong in gym. it hurt and i didn’t feel good i didn’t black out or anything it just hurt really bad it put a little knot on my forehead i have headaches since then and that was a day ago.. should i be concerned?

I got hit with a football on the head 4 weeks ago and it still hurts but just down 1 side should I be worried

Hi LaShea, It would probably be a good idea to at least go see your doctor.

I banged the left side of my head behind my ear on a rock, i started to see black spots then i just dropped and people around me said i was on the floor for a little bit they thought i was dead and so then i turned yellow and pale and my lips were purple and my eyes... i don’t know if it was just dehydration but a couple months ago i had a kidney half taken out since it had a tumor pressing on the renal artery to my heart it’s now the 2nd day my ear and head keep hurting only on the side where i hit it..i definitely should’ve went to the hospital but i was telling everyone i was okay and i went in the shade i regained my color and full consciousness. Should i be concerned ?