A concussion is an injury to your brain. The brain does not work right for a while after a concussion. You may have problems with things like memory, balance, concentration, judgement, and coordination.
Your brain will need time to heal after a concussion. Most will have a full recovery with the proper rest and monitoring.
A concussion is caused by a sudden, violent jolt to the brain. It may be caused by:
- A blow to the head
- Severe jarring or shaking—like a bad fall
- Abruptly coming to a stop—most common in car accidents
How a Concussion Occurs
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Concussions most often occur with events that involve:
- Motor vehicles
- Skates, skateboards, and scooters
- Sports and recreation
- Falling down
Physical violence such as
- Assault and battery
- Domestic violence
- Child abuse
Factors that may increase your chance of a concussion include:
- A previous concussion or head injury
- Participation in contact sports like football or boxing, especially during competition
- Work that involves farming, logging, or construction where the potential for a head injury is high
- Being in a car accident
- Increased susceptibility to concussion
- Alcohol intoxication
A concussion can cause symptoms that may last for days, weeks, or even longer.
Symptoms may include:
- Loss of consciousness or memory about the accident
- Low-grade headache or neck pain
- Remembering things
- Paying attention or concentrating
- Organizing daily tasks
- Making decisions and solving problems
- Slowness in thinking, acting, speaking, or reading
- Feeling fatigued or tired
Change in sleeping pattern:
- Sleeping much longer than usual
- Trouble sleeping
- Loss of balance
- Feeling lightheaded
Increased sensitivity to:
- Blurred vision or eyes that tire easily
- Loss of sense of taste or smell
- Ringing in the ears or trouble hearing
- Feeling sad, anxious, or listless
- Becoming easily irritated or angry for little or no reason
- Lacking motivation
Symptoms that may appear in a child with a concussion include:
- Listlessness or tiring easily
- Irritability or crankiness
- Eating or sleeping patterns
- School performance
- Lack of interest in favorite toys or activities
- Loss of new skills, such as toilet training
- Loss of balance, unsteady walking
You will be asked about your symptoms and how the injury occurred. Others who witnessed the accident may also be asked to describe what happened and how you reacted. A physical exam will be done. It will often include brief tests for strength, sensation, balance, reflexes, and memory.
Imaging tests evaluate the head, brain, and surrounding structures for injury and/or damage. These may include:
The goal of treatment is to allow the brain to heal. The brain can heal on its own with rest and avoiding activities that may be harmful while it heals.
You brain will need full rest. This means avoiding physical activities and decreasing mentally demanding tasks. At first you will need to avoid all activities that need concentration like work or schoolwork. For children this also includes video games, watching television, computer activities, or texting.
You will be asked to gradually add in mental and physical activities once your initial symptoms are gone at rest. Your symptoms, balance, cognition and tolerance to your current activity will be assessed at each stage of recovery. This information will be used to decide if you will need further rest or if you are ready to progress to the next step.
Follow your doctor's directions on when you should return to work or school. Following the recommended schedule will help to speed your recovery.
The brain is more vulnerable to injuries while it is healing. Some steps to consider include:
Avoid certain medications—especially aspirin , blood thinners, and medications that cause drowsiness
- Talk to your doctor about any medication you are taking.
- Do not take any new medication without your doctor's permission until your concussion is fully healed.
This includes over-the-counter medication and supplements.
- Avoid the use of alcohol and illegal drugs.
Avoid activities that might jolt or jar your head—re-injury can lead to more severe or long-term symptoms:
- Never return to a sports activity until your doctor has said it is okay to do so.
- When you are cleared to do so, gradually return to sports.
- Ask when it's safe to drive a car, ride a bike, work, or use heavy equipment.
Avoid a second head injury in children and adolescents (second impact syndrome):
- Even a mild second head injury in children and adolescents can lead to serious damage to the brain. This can lead to unconsciousness and even death.
- Follow your child's doctor's recommendation of when it is safe to return to contact sports or other activities.
To prevent vehicle accidents and head injuries associated with car accidents:
- Do not drink alcohol and drive.
- Do not take medications that may make you sleepy, especially when driving or using heavy equipment.
- Obey speed limits and other driving laws.
- In vehicles, always use seatbelts and child safety seats. Only use child safety seats when traveling. Do not use them outside of the vehicle.
To prevent concussions with recreational activities and sports:
Wear a helmet when:
- Riding a bike or motorcycle
- Playing a contact sport like football or hockey
- Using skates, scooters, and skateboards
- Catching, batting, or running bases in baseball or softball
- Riding a horse
- Skiing or snowboarding
- Wear mouth guards, face guards, pads, and other safety gear while playing sports.
To prevent accidents at home that can lead to concussions:
- Make sure your child's play surface is soft and free of rocks, holes, and debris.
- Use handrails when walking up and down stairs—teach your child to do so.
- Install safety gates by stairs and safety guards by windows.
- Use grab bars in the bathroom.
- Place non-slip mats in the bathroom.
- Keep walkways clear to avoid tripping.
- Make sure rooms and hallways are well lit.
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Last reviewed January 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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