Concussions are a type of head injury that affects the brain. They are most often short limited and do not cause any lasting effects. They are caused by blows to the head or violent shaking of the body. They are most common in people who play sports, but can happen in many different circumstances. The symptoms include headaches, balance issues, memory loss and trouble concentrating. Even though a concussion injures the brain, it is usually mild and most experience a full recovery.
Luckily, the brain has a hard skull that protects it. Inside there is fluid that acts as a cushion. This usually protects the brain from hitting the sides of the skull and mild impact. If you do happen to hit your head very hard or you are shaken violently, your brain may shift inside the skull. This may cause mild to moderate injury to the brain.
Some of the different causes of concussion are sports (hockey, skiing, snowboarding, football, and soccer). You can also experience concussion symptoms after a motorcycle crash, car crash or bike accident. Children can get concussions from falls on the playground or from climbing and falling off of things. Blows to the head during a fight can also cause concussion injuries.
Symptoms can come on quickly, but may take a few days, a few weeks or longer to subside. Older people and children experience symptoms for longer periods. One concussion increases the risk for a second concussion and the second recovery may take longer to heal.
While some symptoms may come on quickly, there are other symptoms that may show up some time after the concussion occurs. Stress can bring on symptoms. Often people may not know they have a concussion or will not let anyone know about their symptoms. People suffering from a concussion may appear completely fine.
Note to Athletes: If you receive a blow to the head during a sport, it is important to stop any activity if you have any symptoms of concussion. Even a suspected concussion with no symptoms needs to be evaluated by a doctor. Children and teens need to be checked by a medical person that is trained to deal with concussions in younger people. It is highly recommended that anyone with concussion symptoms not play sports until healed.
Occasionally, concussion can develop complications, including:
When there is a concussion, the brain chemicals are altered and inflammation can result. The chemicals begin to stabilize after around a week. The concussion recovery period can go on a lot longer. In the case of people who play sports it is important not to play until all the symptoms are gone to prevent “second concussion syndrome.”
A concussion is diagnosed based on symptoms, how the injury occurred and physical signs. If you have a head injury, it is best to see a doctor as soon as possible. If the person is unconscious, call for emergency medical help right away.
The doctor will ask how the injury happened. They will also ask if you are having any symptoms. If you don’t remember, take someone with you that was near you at the time of injury.
They will then do a full physical exam, checking your pupils and neurological signs to see if everything is normal. If you have signs of a concussion, the doctor can send you for a CT scan or MRI to check your brain for any injury or swelling. They can also order an EEG to check for seizures.
For a mild to moderate concussion, the only treatment is rest. You will need to stay quiet, not play sports, work or drive until the doctor tells you it is okay. You will need to stay in a quiet area of the house, avoid television, stress, the computer and texting. Aside from rest, the doctor may recommend the following:
If the symptoms do not improve or get worse, your doctor may need to do surgery to help relieve the swelling in the brain. Most people heal just fine with rest, but a small percentage need further treatment to heal.