What is a concussion?

A concussion is a traumatic brain injury, typically caused by a blow to the head. You may lose consciousness, forget what happened or have a headache, but many people don't have visible signs of a concussion.

If you suspect you have a concussion, contact your physician or go to the nearest ER right away. A concussion can cause bleeding around the brain that can be fatal if not cared for right away.

Causes of a concussion

A concussion is typically caused by a blow to the head, neck or upper body. The blow can cause the brain to slide back and forth against the skull. Concussions can be caused by activities such as:

  • Car collisions
  • Sporting events like football

Risk factors for a concussion

Activities that can cause someone to be at a higher risk for a concussion include:

  • Falling (more common in elderly or young children)
  • High-risk sports such as football, soccer, rugby, boxing or hockey
  • Falling off a bicycle, motorcycle
  • Car collisions
  • Previous concussion

Symptoms of a concussion

Symptoms of a concussion may include:

  • Loss of consciousness longer than 30 seconds
  • Extended periods of drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Repeated vomiting or nausea
  • Balance problems
  • Memory problems
  • Headache that gets worse over time
  • Sensitivity to noise or light
  • Seizure
  • Vision or eye disturbances (pupils bigger than normal)

If your symptoms are getting worse after the incident, such as repeatedly throwing up, headaches that progressively worse, you are stumbling over your words or losing balance, visit the ER right away.

Diagnosis of a concussion

Your physician will review your symptoms and signs along with your medical history, as well as conduct a neurological exam to determine if you have suffered from a concussion. It is important to watch your symptoms after head trauma because the symptoms can appear hours or days after the injury.

  • Neurological exam — in a neurological exam, your physician will test your vision, hearing, balance, reflexes and strength.
  • Cognitive testing — testing that can evaluate thinking skills such as memory, concentration or ability to recall information.
  • Imaging — a CT scan is the best imaging modality to assess the brain after injury, an MRI may also be used to diagnose any potential complications that may occur after a concussion.
  • Observation — your physician may want you to be hospitalized or observed for 24 hours to ensure you don’t have a traumatic brain injury.

Treatments for a concussion

Although most concussions don’t require major medical treatment, if you have bleeding or swelling in the brain, you may need surgery or another medical procedure to correct the problem.

Mental and physical rest is crucial in the recovery process after a concussion. Your physician will encourage you to limit or cut out completely sporting activities, any vigorous movements and activities that require mental concentration until these activities no longer provoke symptoms.

Your physician may encourage you to take an over-the-counter pain reliever if you have headaches from the concussion.

Recovery from a concussion

Most people recover after a concussion, but it can be months for the symptoms to subside. Repeated concussions should be avoided because they increase your risk of permanent brain damage.

If you participate in a high-impact sport such as football, reduce your risk of a concussion by wearing a helmet that is sized correctly and practice safe sporting guidelines.

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