A hematoma is defined as a collection of blood outside of a blood vessel following an injury to the vessel. Any injury to a blood vessel can cause bleeding. In such cases, blood often seeps into surrounding tissues.
Several types of hematomas are indicative of medical emergencies and scenarios – such as a subdural hematoma and/or intracranial (brain) hematoma.
Among the most common causes of hematomas include deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or a blood clot in the leg, and injuries such as bone fractures that damage surrounding blood vessels and cause breakage, tearing, or leaking.
How do you know if you have a hematoma?
A hematoma can be as minor as a small bruise or as serious and potentially life-threatening as a DVT. Symptoms of a hematoma will depend on their location, severity of the injury, and involvement of nearby tissues or structures that may become inflamed or swollen.
Some of the most common signs and symptoms associated with hematoma include but are not limited to:
- Skin discoloration
- Seizures (in the case of a subdural hematoma)
- Loss of bladder and/or bowel control (indication of an epidural hematoma)
- Pain in the abdomen (indicative of a peritoneal, liver, spleen hematoma)
Mild or superficial hematomas on the skin and soft tissues including muscle are typically relieved through the RICE approach (rest, ice, compression, and elevation).
More serious hematomas caused by a collection of blood outside of a vein, such as a cranial hematoma caused by a head injury, can be life-threatening. Anytime an injury occurs to the head, a risk of a hematoma presents itself. Some people will not notice anything. Others may have a mild headache. Others can lose consciousness.
It should be noted that a head injury doesn’t necessarily mean that a person has a brain injury. However, bleeding in the brain produces blood clots. In such cases, surgery may be necessary to remove those blood clots as well as relieve associated pressure on the brain.
Common signs and symptoms of a hematoma
Signs and symptoms of a hematoma may not present immediately following a fall in injury. In some cases, swelling and bleeding develops slowly.
Common signs of a cranial hematoma caused by a head injury include confusion and lethargy. Symptoms are also different between an epidural hematoma (bleeding that occurs between the dura mater and the skull), and a subdural hematoma (occurs beneath the dura mater and the arachnoid layer of the brain.)
Subarachnoid hematomas cause bleeding in the area beneath the arachnoid layer where cerebrospinal fluid is found. In such cases, an individual may complain of severe and intense headaches and may also experience vomiting.
Not all hematomas are dangerous. However, watch for signs of bleeding, which is visible with bruising, swelling, or pain/pressure that may indicate damage to deeper tissues and blood vessels. In such cases, err on the side of caution and seek urgent care.