Concussion

Concussion

Sometimes called a mild traumatic brain injury, a concussion is caused by a blow or a jolt to the head. The injury keeps the brain from working normally. Symptoms of a concussion may last less than a day or may linger for months or longer.

Many of the cases of concussion that require emergency treatment are because of falls, motor vehicle injuries, assaults, and sports injuries. Children, young adults, and older adults are at especially high risk for concussions and may take longer to recover after a concussion. 

Facts about concussions

Millions of traumatic brain injuries occur in the U.S. each year, but most don't require a visit to the hospital. People who have had concussions before are more likely to have them again.

Symptoms

These are symptoms of a possible concussion:

  • Headache

  • Vomiting or nausea

  • Trouble thinking normally

  • Memory problems

  • Trouble walking

  • Dizziness

  • Vision problems

  • Fatigue

  • Mood changes

  • Changes in sleep patterns

These symptoms may occur right away. But some may not start for weeks or even months after the injury.

Diagnosis

To diagnose a concussion, your doctor will probably ask you a variety of questions. Be sure to say if you lost consciousness and report any other symptoms. The doctor will also want to know how the injury occurred and where you hit your head.

You may also be asked questions to test your memory and asked to do certain tasks to show how well your brain is functioning. Your doctor may also ask your friends or family questions about your symptoms and the injury.

Images of your brain using CT or MRI scans may be taken and evaluated.

Treatment

An important part of treatment for a concussion is getting plenty of rest, both sleep at night and naps or rest breaks during the day if needed. Your doctor will probably tell you to avoid certain physical activities and sports while you recover and may suggest medicine to take if you have a headache.

If your symptoms don't go away in a few days or if they get worse, you may need to see a doctor who specializes in concussions.

Prevention

You can take a number of steps to help reduce your risk for a concussion or prevent it in your children:

  • Wear a seat belt every time you're in a motor vehicle.

  • Make sure your children use the proper safety seat, booster seat, or seat belt.

  • Never drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol. 

  • Wear a helmet for activities such as riding a bicycle or motorcycle, playing contact sports, skiing, horseback riding, and snowboarding.

  • Reduce your risk for falls by eliminating clutter in your home, removing slippery area rugs, and installing grab bars in the bathroom if needed, especially for older adults.

Managing concussions

Follow your doctor’s directions about avoiding sports, physical education classes, and activities such as running and bicycling while you are recovering. You should also limit activities that require you to concentrate heavily. This includes taking tests if you are in school or doing tasks at work that require intense focus. You may also need to take rest breaks during the day. As your symptoms go away, you may be able to go back to your normal activities.

If you have symptoms or problems that last more than three months, you may have a problem called postconcussion syndrome. Discuss this possibility with your doctor.