We're hearing quite a bit in the news about concussion, a condition that's related to Migraine and headaches, especially as it relates to both professional and high school athletes. Since there are some misconceptions about concussion, including that you have to hit your head to have a concussion and that you have to lose consciousness to have a concussion, it's time to take a look at the basics of concussion.

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head. Concussions can also occur from a fall or blow to the body that causes the head and grain to move back and forth quickly. Concussion cal occur without loss of consciousness also. Doctors may describe a concussion as a "mild" brain injury because concussions are usually not life-threatening. Still, the effects of concussions can be quite serious.

Signs and symptoms of concussion:

Most people with a concussion recover quickly and fully. However, for some people, symptoms can last for days, weeks, or longer. In general, recovery may be slower among older adults, young children, and teens. Those who have had a concussion in the past are also at risk of having another one and may find that it takes longer to recover if they have another concussion. Symptoms of concussion usually fall into four categories:

  1. Thinking / Remembering

  2. Difficulty thinking clearly

  3. Feeling slowed down

  4. Difficulty concentrating

  5. Difficulty remembering new information

  6. Altered level of consciousness

  7. Loss of consciousness

  8. Memory loss, amnesia

  9. Physical

  10. Headache

  11. Fuzzy or blurry vision

  12. Nausea or vomiting (early on)

  13. Dizziness

  14. Sensitivity to noise or light

  15. Balance problems

  16. Fatigue

  17. Sleep

  18. Sleeping more than usual

  19. Sleeping less than usual

  20. Trouble falling asleep

These are symptoms of a concussion that indicate an emergency situation and that immediate medical care should be sought:

  • Changes in alertness and consciousness
  • Convulsions (seizures)
  • Muscle weakness on one or both sides
  • Persistent confusion
  • Persistent unconsciousness (coma)
  • Repeated vomiting
  • Unequal pupils
  • Unusual eye movements
  • Walking problems

Although a concussion doesn't always result in loss of consciousness, if it does, how long the person remains unconscious may be a sign of the severity of the concussion. That said, most people don't lose consciousness, and you can have a concussion without realizing it.

While recovering from a concussion, you may:

  • Be withdrawn, easily upset, or confused
  • Have a hard time with tasks that require remembering or concentrating
  • Have mild headaches
  • Be less tolerant of noise

Diagnostic tests:

When care is sought for a possible concussion, the following diagnostic tests may be performed:

  • Head CT scan
  • MRI of the head
  • EEG (brain wave test) may be needed if seizures occur or continue

Recovering from a concussion:

Rest is very important after a concussion because it helps the brain to heal. Ignoring the symptoms and trying to "tough it out" often makes symptoms worse. Healing takes time. Only when the symptoms have reduced significantly, in consultation with their doctor, should the patient slowly and gradually return to their daily activities, such as work or school. If symptoms come back or new symptoms occur as activity increases, this is a sign that the patient is pushing himself or herself too hard. They need to stop these activities and take more time to rest and recover. As the days go by, they can expect to gradually feel better.

If you have a concussion, here are some tips to help you get better:

  • Get plenty of sleep at night, and rest during the day. Avoid activities that are physically demanding (e.g., sports, heavy housecleaning, working-out) or require a lot of concentration (e.g., sustained computer use, video games). Ask your doctor when you can safely drive a car, ride a bike, or operate heavy equipment.* Do not drink alcohol. Alcohol and other drugs may slow your recovery and put you at risk of further injury.

There are many people who can help you and your family as you recover from a concussion. You don't have to do it alone. Keep talking with your doctor, family members, and loved ones about how you're feeling, both physically and emotionally. If you don't think you are getting better, please tell your doctor. Concussion and TBI are nothing to mess with. You owe it to yourself to recover well and fully.

Summary and comments:

It's time to dispel the myths about concussion:

  • Concussion can occur even without a head injury. Concussion can occur without loss of consciousness. Although concussion is generally not considered to be life-threatening, it can be quite serious.* The effects of concussion may last only days, but they can also last months or longer. It takes time for the brain to heal.

If you or someone you know sustain an injury and exhibit any signs of concussion, do the safe thing and get it checked out. After a concussion, patience is essential to a full recovery. Follow the tips above for recovery. Although they may seem restrictive, they're far less restrictive than permanent brain damage. Patience during recovery will pay off. If you need support during recovery, ask your doctor about support resources. With all of the increased publicity and awareness, there are far more resources available today.


Resources:

Fact Sheet. "Facts about Concussion and Brain Injury." Centers for Disease Control.

ADAM. "Concussion." PubMed Health. January 11, 2011.

Medical review by John Claude Krusz, PhD, MD

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