What is a concussion?

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI). Most often, it occurs when you have a blow to your head. It also can happen from a blow to your neck or body. This causes sudden head movement that jars, or shakes, your brain. Although a concussion may be mild, it can have serious effects. It can damage your brain cells and affect chemicals in your brain and body.

Symptoms of a concussion

Most of the time, people who have a concussion remain awake. Sometimes, they can lose consciousness. You may notice symptoms right away or several hours or days later. Symptoms of a concussion may include:

  • headache or pressure in your head
  • trouble focusing
  • memory loss
  • dazed appearance
  • confusion
  • dizziness or balance problems
  • blurry vision
  • trouble hearing
  • slow response to questions
  • nausea
  • sensitivity to light or noise
  • changes in mood or behavior
  • changes in sleep, such as having trouble falling asleep or sleeping more than usual.

Get help right away if you, or someone you know, have the following:

  • symptoms that get worse, such as headache
  • frequent vomiting
  • inability to wake up
  • ongoing confusion
  • trouble speaking, walking, or making eye contact
  • weakness or numbness in your arms or legs
  • loss of consciousness
  • seizures.

What causes a concussion?

Sports are a main cause of concussions. They can occur during practice or a game. Any blow to your head, neck, or body can cause a concussion. This can happen in a fall, wreck, or accident.

More than half of the emergency room (ER) visits for TBIs are for children 5 to 18 years of age. Concussions can happen in almost any sport or activity. Those most linked to concussions are:

  • football
  • basketball
  • soccer
  • baseball
  • biking, or cycling.

How is a concussion diagnosed?

Contact your doctor if you have concussion symptoms after a blow to your head, neck, or body. The doctor will want to know about your injury and symptoms. They may test your senses, balance, reflexes, memory, and thinking. In some cases, the doctor will order tests to scan your brain. These include a computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. They take a picture of your brain, and check for bleeding, swelling, or fractures.

Can a concussion be prevented or avoided?

There’s no guaranteed way to prevent concussions. However, you can lower your risk.

  • Learn proper techniques for your sport or activity.
  • Follow all safety rules.
  • Use the right protective gear in sports. Make sure it fits and is in good condition.
  • Wear a seatbelt in the car.
  • Wear a helmet on a bicycle and motorcycle.
  • Keep your house free of hazards that could cause trips or falls.

Concussion treatment

If you have a concussion, your brain needs time to heal. It’s important to get plenty of rest. Take a break from physical activities. You also should take a mental rest. This means no reading, watching TV, or using a phone or computer. You may need to stay home from work or school for a while. Talk to your doctor about when you can return to your normal routine.

While you recover you should:

  • Drink plenty of fluids, such as water.
  • Eat healthy foods.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Avoid operating vehicles or machines.
  • Avoid activities that may worsen symptoms or affect your balance. This includes being on airplanes, trains, or boats.
  • Ask your doctor about taking any medicines.

When you have a concussion, your emotions may change. You may feel frustrated, angry, sad, or confused. Tell your doctor, family, and friends what you are feeling. They can help provide support.

Living with a concussion

Most people get better after a concussion and do not have lasting brain damage. However, the injury does put you at risk of post-concussion syndrome (PCS). PCS can cause symptoms to last for months or years. An example is ongoing memory problems.

Do not return to activities before making a full recovery. A second blow to the head, even a minor one, can be dangerous. You could get a rare condition called second impact syndrome. This is rapid brain swelling that can lead to death.

Having one concussion puts you at risk for future ones. The more concussions you have, the worse they can be. Brain damage can build up and cause other brain injuries.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • Could I have a concussion without knowing it?
  • What should I do if my symptoms get worse?
  • When can I return to my normal routine, including sports?
  • If I’ve had a concussion, what is my risk of having another one?