What is a concussion?
A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI). Most often, it occurs when you hit your head hard against an object. This is sometimes called a blow to the head. It also can happen from a blow to your neck or body. This causes sudden head movement that jars, or shakes, your brain.
A concussion may be mild or severe. It can have serious effects, including damage to your brain cells. It can also affect chemicals in your brain and body.
More than half of the emergency room visits for TBIs are for children 5 to 18 years of age.
Symptoms of a concussion
Most people with concussions stay awake after getting hurt. However, some people may lose consciousness. Concussion symptoms may show up right away. Some may even appear hours or days later. Symptoms include:
- Headache or pressure in your head.
- Trouble focusing.
- Memory loss.
- Dazed appearance.
- Dizziness or balance problems.
- Blurry vision.
- Trouble hearing.
- Slow response to questions.
- Nausea and/or vomiting.
- Sensitivity to light or noise.
- Changes in mood or behavior.
- Changes in sleep, including trouble falling asleep or sleeping more than usual.
If you may have a concussion, get help right away for the following. Someone may need to help you call for help.
- 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.
What causes a concussion?
Sports are a main cause of concussions. Concussions can occur during practice or a game. They can happen in a fall, wreck, or accident. Sports most linked to concussions are:
- 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. He or she will want to know how you got hurt. He or she may test your senses, balance, reflexes, memory, and thinking. Your doctor may order tests to scan your brain. These include computed tomography, also known as a CT scan. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, is another test. These scans take pictures 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.
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. These include 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’re feeling. They can help provide support.
Living with a concussion
Most people get better after a concussion and don’t 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. Ongoing memory problems are an example.
Don’t 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?
- Are there any medicines I can take to make my symptoms go away?
- 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?