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A to Z: Fracture, Skull

A skull fracture (FRAK-chur) is a break or crack in one of the bones of the skull, also called the cranium (CRAY-nee-um).

More to Know

The human skull is made up of two parts and 22 small bones. The cranium, the part of the skull above and behind the face, includes eight bones that come together at special joints called sutures (SOO-churs). These are the bones that crack or break when someone has a skull fracture. A severe impact or hit to the skull — such as from a car accident or fall — can cause skull fractures and may also injure the brain.

There are four main types of skull fractures:

  1. With linear skull fractures, which are the most common, there is a break in the bone but the bone doesn't move.
  2. With depressed skull fractures, part of the bone breaks and is pushed inward toward the brain.
  3. A diastatic (dy-uh-STAT-ik) skull fracture is a breakage at the sutures, the joints between the bones of the head, that widens the space between the sutures.
  4. Basilar (BAZ-uh-ler) skull fractures, the most severe type, involve breaks in the bones near the base of the skull, including the ones around the ears, eyes, and nasal cavity.

Skull fractures can cause bleeding, black eyes, and nausea. These symptoms may progress to loss of consciousness, brain injury, seizures, convulsions, and coma. Severe skull fractures can be life-threatening medical emergencies, but most linear skull fractures don't require treatment. Depressed skull fractures are sometimes treated with surgery to repair the damaged part of the bone and prevent further injury to the brain.

Children with basilar skull fractures require extra care because more problems — such as hearing loss, decreased sense of smell, and facial weakness — can follow a fracture.

Keep in Mind

Much of the time, skull fractures are simple linear fractures that don't need treatment. But anyone who has had a head injury should be observed for a few days in case complications develop. A doctor should always be notified if someone has headaches, dizziness, confusion, or any symptoms of a skull fracture following a blow or injury to the skull.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.

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