Head injuries lead to 1 hospitalization every 4 minutes in Australia

Head injuries resulted in 142,000 admitted hospital cases in 2020-21 - the equivalent of 1 hospitalization every 4 minutes, according to a report released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Head injuries in Australia 2020-21 also reveals that injuries to the head were responsible for 406,000 emergency department presentations and 2,400 deaths in the year studied. 

‘In recent times, the Australian community has become more aware of head injuries - including concussion in sport - and the importance of preventing and managing these injuries,’ said AIHW spokesperson Dr Heather Swanston (PhD).

This report will help build a clearer national picture of the causes, frequency and severity of head injuries and the population groups at greatest risk of hospitalization and death from head injuries.’

Dr Heather Swanston (PhD), AIHW Spokesperson

In 2020-21, head injuries accounted for 21% of all injury emergency department presentations, 25% of all injury hospitalizations and 17% of all injury deaths.

Falls (67%) and transport (12%) were the top 2 causes for head injury hospitalizations and death. Almost 7 in 10 (69%) of all injury hospitalizations for assault had at least one head injury.

Between 2017–18 and 2020–21, the age-standardized rate of head injury hospitalizations has increased by an average of 1.4% each year (from 496.4 hospitalizations per 100,000 population in 2017-18 to 516.8 hospitalizations per 100,000 population in 2020-21). Following a decline in 2019–20, likely due to the impacts of COVID–19, age–standardized rates of head injury hospitalizations increased by 6.7% in 2020–21.

Population groups 

Males made up 2 in 3 head injury emergency department presentations and deaths and 55% of head injury hospitalizations.

Children had higher rates of emergency department presentations for head injuries than adults. Those aged 0-4 years had the highest rate (1 emergency department presentation per 20 population of 0-4-year-olds), followed by 5-14-year-olds (1 emergency department presentation per 50 population of 5-14-year-olds).

Head injury hospitalizations and deaths were more common among Australians aged 65 and over, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and people living in rural or remote areas, or areas of greater socioeconomic disadvantage.

Sport and physical activity

In 2020-21, one quarter (24%) of all concussive hospitalizations occurred while people were participating in sport or physical activities. Intracranial injuries – including concussion – were the most common head injury associated with sports (36%). This was particularly the case among males where 1 in 3 injuries for recreational walking were head injuries (33%).

Cycling was related to the highest number of sports head injury hospitalizations overall (20%) and for males (24%). Equestrian activities was the sport with the highest number of head injury hospitalizations for females (16%).

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