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 headSevere jarring or shaking—like a bad fallAbruptly 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 vehiclesBicyclesSkates, skateboards, and scootersSports and recreationFalling downFirearms
Physical violence such as
Assault and batteryDomestic violenceChild abuse
Factors that may increase your chance of a concussion include: A previous concussion or head injuryParticipation in contact sports like football or boxing, especially during competitionWork that involves farming, logging, or construction where the potential for a head injury is highBeing in a car accidentIincreased susceptibility to concussionAlcohol intoxication
A concussion can cause symptoms that may last for days, weeks, or even longer.
Symptoms may include: ConfusionLoss of consciousness (happens in < 10% of concussions) or memory about the accidentLow-grade headache or neck painNausea
Remembering thingsPaying attention or concentratingOrganizing daily tasksMaking decisions and solving problemsSlowness in thinking, acting, speaking, or readingFeeling fatigued or tired
Change in sleeping pattern:
Sleeping much longer than usualTrouble sleepingLoss of balanceFeeling light-headed or dizzy
Increased sensitivity to:
SoundsLightsDistractionsBlurred vision or eyes that tire easilyLoss of sense of taste or smellRinging in the ears or trouble hearing
Feeling sad, anxious, or listlessBecoming easily irritated or angry for little or no reasonLacking motivationSeizures
Symptoms that may appear in a child with a concussion include: Listlessness or tiring easilyIrritability or crankiness
Eating or sleeping patternsPlayBehaviorSchool performanceLack of interest in favorite toys or activitiesLoss of new skills, such as toilet trainingLoss of balance, unsteady walking
The doctor will ask you about your symptoms and how the injury occurred. The doctor may also ask others who witnessed the accident 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: CT scanMRI scan
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.
Your doctor will ask you to gradually add in mental and physical activities once your initial symptoms are gone at rest. Your doctor will assess your symptoms, balance, cognition and tolerance to your current activity at each stage of recovery. The doctor will use this information to know 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 medicines—especially aspirin , blood thinners, and medicines 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 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 given you permission.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.
If you are diagnosed as having a concussion, follow your doctor's
To prevent vehicle accidents and head injuries associated with car accidents: Do not drink alcohol and drive.Do not take medicines 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 motorcyclePlaying a contact sport like football or hockeyUsing skates, scooters, and skateboardsCatching, batting, or running bases in baseball or softballRiding a horseSkiing or snowboardingWear 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 soHave safety gates by stairs and safety guards by windowsUse grab bars in the bathroomPlace non-slip mats in the bathroomKeep walkways clear to avoid trippingMake sure rooms and hallways are well-lit
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Last reviewed December 2013 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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