Concussion

Overview

A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that affects your brain function. Effects are usually temporary, but they can include headaches and problems with concentration, memory, balance, and coordination. Concussions are usually caused by a blow to the head but blows to other parts of the face and body can also create rotational forces to the head that cause a concussion. Some concussions cause you to lose consciousness, but most do not. It’s possible to have a concussion and not realize it.  

Concussions are particularly common in contact sports, such as football. Most people usually recover fully after a concussion.

The signs and symptoms of a concussion can be subtle and may not show up immediately. Most symptoms resolve in a few days, but sometimes symptoms can persist for weeks or even longer. Common symptoms after a concussive traumatic brain injury are headache, loss of memory (amnesia), and confusion. The amnesia usually involves forgetting the event that caused the concussion.

Signs and symptoms of a concussion may include:

  • Headache or a feeling of pressure in the head
  • Temporary loss of consciousness
  • Confusion or feeling as if in a fog
  • Amnesia surrounding the traumatic event
  • Dizziness or “seeing stars”
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Delayed response to questions
  • Appearing dazed
  • Fatigue

You may have some symptoms of concussions immediately. Others may be delayed for hours or days after injury, such as:

  • Concentration and memory complaints
  • Irritability and other personality changes
  • Sensitivity to light and noise
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Psychological adjustment problems and depression
  • Disorders of taste and smell

Initially, rest is the most appropriate way to allow your brain to recover from a concussion. This means avoiding activities that increase any of your symptoms, such as general physical exertion, sports, or any vigorous activities, until these activities no longer provoke your symptoms. This rest also includes limiting activities that require thinking and mental concentration (such as playing video games, watching TV, schoolwork, reading, texting, or using a computer) if these activities trigger your symptoms or worsen them. Initially after a concussion, you may need shortened school days or workdays, and you may need to take breaks during the day or have reduced school workloads or work assignments as you recover from a concussion.  

As your symptoms improve, you may gradually add more activities that involve thinking, such as doing more schoolwork or work assignments, or increasing your time spent at school or work. Your care team will tell you when it’s safe for you to resume light physical activity. You may be allowed to do light physical activity — such as riding a stationary bike or light jogging — before your symptoms are completely gone, as long as it doesn’t worsen symptoms.  

Eventually, once all signs and symptoms of concussion have resolved, you and your care team will discuss the steps you’ll need to take to safely play sports again. These steps will include gradually progressing your exercise intensity to prepare you for a return to your sport. Resuming sports while you still have symptoms increases the risk of a second concussion and potentially significant brain injury.   

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