A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that alters the way your brain functions. Effects are usually temporary, but can include problems with headache, concentration, memory, judgment, balance and coordination.
Although concussions usually are caused by a blow to the head, they can also occur when the head and upper body are violently shaken. These injuries can cause a loss of consciousness, but most concussions do not. Because of this, some people have concussions and don't realize it.
Concussions are common, particularly if you play a contact sport, such as football. But every concussion injures your brain to some extent. This injury needs time and rest to heal properly. Luckily, most concussive traumatic brain injuries are mild, and people usually recover fully.
The signs and symptoms of a concussion can be subtle and may not be immediately apparent. Symptoms can last for days, weeks or even longer.
The most common symptoms after a concussive traumatic brain injury are headache, amnesia and confusion. The amnesia, which may or may not be preceded by a loss of consciousness, almost always involves the loss of memory of the impact that caused the concussion.
Signs and symptoms of a concussion may include:
Some symptoms of concussions may be immediate or delayed in onset by hours or days after injury:
Symptoms in children
When to see a doctor
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you call your child's doctor for advice if your child receives anything more than a light bump on the head. If your child remains alert, moves normally and responds to you, the injury is probably mild and usually doesn't need further testing. In this case, if your child wants to nap, it's OK to let them sleep. If worrisome signs develop later, seek emergency care.
Seek emergency care for a child who experiences a head injury and:
Seek emergency care for anyone who experiences a head injury and:
Your brain has the consistency of gelatin. It's cushioned from everyday jolts and bumps by the cerebrospinal fluid that it floats in, inside your skull. A violent blow to your head and neck or upper body can cause your brain to slide back and forth forcefully against the inner wall of your skull. Sudden acceleration or deceleration of the head — resulting from events such as a car crash or being violently shaken (shaken baby syndrome) — also can cause brain injury.
These injuries affect brain function, usually for a brief period, resulting in signs and symptoms of concussion. A brain injury of this sort may even lead to bleeding in or around your brain causing symptoms, such as prolonged drowsiness and confusion, that may develop right away or even later. Such bleeding in your brain can be fatal. That's why anyone who experiences a brain injury needs to be monitored in the hours afterward and receive emergency care if symptoms worsen.
Factors that may increase your risk of a concussion include:
Potential complications of concussion include:
Preparing for your appointment
It's important for anyone who has a head injury to be evaluated by a doctor within a day or two of the injury, even if emergency care isn't required.
If your child has received a head injury that concerns you, call your child's doctor immediately. Depending on the signs and symptoms, your doctor may recommend seeking immediate medical care.
Here's some information to help you get ready for and make the most of your medical appointment.
What you can do
For a concussion, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
You or your child should be prepared to answer the following questions about the injury and related signs and symptoms:
What you can do in the meantime
If you have a headache, take acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) to ease pain. Avoid taking other pain relievers such as aspirin or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) if you suspect you've had a concussion. It's possible that these may increase the risk of bleeding.
Tests and diagnosis
If a blow to your head, neck or upper body has caused symptoms such as a headache, dizziness, nausea or loss of consciousness, you've had a concussion. Signs and symptoms of these injuries may not appear until hours or days after the injury. Brain imaging may be required to determine whether the injury is severe and has caused bleeding or swelling in your skull.
Tests your doctor may perform or recommend include:
Brain imaging isn't always required after a concussive traumatic brain injury. You're more likely to need a scan if you:
Treatments and drugs
Rest is the best way to allow your brain to recover from a concussion. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends both physical and mental rest for children. This means avoiding general physical exertion as well as activities that require mental concentration, such as playing video games, watching TV, texting or using a computer. School workloads should also be temporarily reduced.
For headaches, use acetaminophen (Tylenol, others). Avoid other pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) and aspirin, as there's a possibility these medications may increase the risk of bleeding.
If you or your child sustained a concussion while playing competitive sports, ask your doctor or your child's doctor when it is safe to return to play. Resuming sports too soon increases the risk of a second concussion and of lasting, potentially fatal brain injury.
No one should return to play or vigorous activity while signs or symptoms of a concussion are present. Experts recommend that children and adolescents not return to play on the same day as the injury.
The following tips may help you to prevent or minimize your risk of head injury:
Last Updated: 2011-02-22
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