1. What is a concussion?
A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury that is caused by any body-blow that essentially rattles the brain inside the skull. There are often no visible signs of a brain injury, aside from a cut or bruise to the face.
You don't have to pass out to have a concussion. Some people will have memory-loss, but many won't. With rest, most people fully recover from a concussion. Many recover within a few hours. Others take a few weeks to recover.
In rare cases, concussions cause more serious problems. Repeated concussions or a severe concussion may result in long-lasting problems with movement, learning, or speaking. Because of the small chance of permanent brain problems, it is important to get medical attention if you or someone you know has symptoms of a concussion. That’s one of the areas we focus on at STLSportsClinic.com.
2. What causes a concussion?
Your brain is a soft organ that is surrounded by spinal fluid and protected by your hard skull. Normally, the fluid around your brain acts like a cushion that keeps your brain from banging into your skull, but if your head or your body is hit hard, your brain can bump into the inside of your skull, resulting in injury.
Some common ways to get a concussion include fights, falls, playground injuries, car crashes, and bike accidents. Participating in a sport which has a risk for knocks to the body or head, such as football, boxing, hockey, soccer, skiing, or snowboarding, can also result in a concussion.
It is not always easy to know if someone has a concussion.
Symptoms of concussion can last for hours, days, weeks, or even months, and they fit into four main categories:
- Thinking and memory
- Not thinking clearly
- Feeling slowed down
- Not being able to concentrate
- Not being able to remember new information
- Fuzzy or blurry vision
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sensitivity to light or noise
- Balance problems
- Feeling tired or having no energy
- Emotional and mood
- Easily upset or angered
- Nervous or anxious
- More emotional
- Sleeping more than usual; increased drowsiness
- Sleeping less than usual; Having a hard time falling asleep (insomnia)
- Crying more than usual.
- Headache that does not go away.
- Changes in the way they play or act.
- Changes in the way they nurse, eat, or sleep.
- Being upset easily or having more temper tantrums.
- A sad mood.
- Lack of interest in their usual activities or favorite toys.
- Loss of new skills, such as toilet training.
- Loss of balance and trouble walking.
- Not being able to pay attention.
Concussions in the elderly can also be dangerous and these too are often missed. If you are caring for an older adult who has had a fall, check him or her for symptoms of a concussion. Signs of a serious problem include a headache that gets worse and/or increasing confusion. See a doctor right away if you notice these signs. If you are caring for an older adult who takes blood thinners—warfarin (Coumadin) is an example—and who has had a fall, take him or her to a doctor right away, even if you don't see any symptoms of a concussion. If you can’t get in to see your doctor immediately, come and see us at STLSportsClinic.com, open 7 days a week.
Sometimes after a concussion you may feel as if you are not functioning as well as you did before the injury. This is called postconcussive syndrome. New symptoms may develop, or you may continue to be bothered by symptoms from the injury, such as:
- Changes in your ability to think, concentrate, or remember.
- Headaches or blurry vision.
- Changes in your sleep patterns, such as not being able to sleep or sleeping all the time.
- Changes in your personality such as becoming angry or anxious for no clear reason.
- Lack of interest in your usual activities.
- Changes in your sex drive.
- Dizziness, lightheadedness, or unsteadiness that makes standing or walking difficult.
4. How is a concussion diagnosed?
If a healthcare provider thinks you might have a concussion, he or she will ask questions about the injury, that will test your ability to pay attention and your learning and memory. We may also try to find out how quickly you can solve problems. We may also show you objects and then hide them and ask you to recall what they are. We might also check your strength, balance, coordination, reflexes, and sensation.
Neuropsychological tests have become more widely used after a concussion. These tests are only one of many ways that your doctor can find out how well you are thinking and remembering after a concussion. These tests can also show if you have any changes in emotions or mood after a concussion.
Sometimes, although by no means routine, we might order an imaging test such as a CT scan or an MRI to make sure your brain is not bruised or bleeding.
Any person who may have had a concussion needs to see a doctor. Some people have to stay in the hospital to be monitored overnight. People who go home still need to be watched closely for warning signs or changes in behavior. Call your doctor or come and see us, or go to the ER if you are watching a person after a concussion and the person has:
- A headache that gets worse or does not go away.
- Weakness, numbness, or decreased coordination.
- Repeated vomiting or nausea.
- Slurred speech.
- Extreme drowsiness or you cannot wake them.
- One pupil that is larger than the other.
- Convulsions or seizures.
- A problem recognizing people or places.
- Increasing confusion, restlessness, or agitation.
- Loss of consciousness.
- Will not stop crying.
- Will not nurse or eat.
Rest is the best way to recover from a concussion. You need to rest your body and your brain. Here are some tips to help you get better:
- Get plenty of sleep at night, and take it easy during the day.
- Avoid alcohol and illegal drugs.
- Do not take any other medicines unless your doctor says it’s okay.
- Avoid activities that are physically or mentally demanding (including housework, exercise, schoolwork, video games, text messaging, or using the computer). You may need to change your school or work schedule while you recover.
- Ask your doctor when it's okay for you to drive a car, ride a bike, or operate machinery.
- Use pain medicine only as directed. Your doctor may give you a prescription for pain medicine or recommend you use an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (for example, Tylenol) or ibuprofen (for example, Advil or Motrin).
6. How can you prevent a concussion?
Reduce your chances of getting a concussion:
- Wear a seat-belt every time you drive or ride in a car or other motor vehicle.
- Never drive when you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- Wear a helmet and safety equipment when you:
- Play sports, such as baseball, hockey, and football.
- Drive or ride on a motorcycle, scooter, snowmobile, or ATV.
- Do other activities where you could injure yourself, such as biking, skateboarding, skiing, or riding a horse.
- Make your home safer to prevent falls.
- Use child car seats and booster seats correctly.
- Teach your child bicycle safety.
- Teach your child how to be safe around streets and cars.
- Keep your child safe from falls.
- Teach your child playground safety.
- Help your child prevent injury from sports and other activities.