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A concussion is no mere bump to the head; it is a traumatic injury to the brain caused by a jolt or blow. The blow does not have to be severe to cause a concussion.

Concussions are serious because they can permanently change how the brain works. This can lead to long-term complications such as depression, concentration difficulties, chronic headaches and mood changes. The potential for these problems means that getting the right kind of treatment is essential.

Symptoms and complications

Concussions have both short-term symptoms as well as more serious, long-term complications such as brain damage and neurologic deficits.

Getting the right kind of care and treatment is crucial to your recovery from a concussion. Unfamiliarity with the sometimes-subtle signs of a concussion may lead to missed diagnoses, delayed and disjointed care and a greater risk of complications.

  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion
  • Dazed feeling or grogginess
  • Difficulty with concentration
  • Difficulty organizing and completing daily tasks
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sensitivity to noise or light

Concussions can alter how the brain functions, leading to long-term complications, including:

  • Attention and concentration difficulties
  • Chronic headache
  • Depression
  • Deteriorating performance at school or work
  • Difficulty with daily tasks and organization
  • Mood changes
  • Sleep pattern disruption

Diagnosis and treatment

If you suspect you have a concussion, you should see your physician as soon as possible. When you visit your doctor, some things that may be done to diagnose you include:

  • Your physician will want to know details of your accident, specifically how it happened and where on the head the blow was sustained. Be sure to say if you lost consciousness and report any other symptoms.
  • You may be asked questions to test your memory.
  • You may be asked to perform tasks to demonstrate how well your brain is functioning.
  • Your family or friends may also be asked about your symptoms and the details of your accident.
  • A CT or MRI scan may be taken to get a better look at the brain.

    Once you have been assessed and diagnosed, your doctor will create a treatment plan unique to you, based on your needs and the extent of your injury.

    One important aspect of treating a concussion is allowing the brain to rest with plenty of sleep, naps and rest breaks throughout the day as needed. Your doctor will also recommend avoiding certain physical activities and sports until you are fully recovered.

    About concussions

    Concussion symptoms can last anywhere from less than a day to several months, or longer.

    Although concussions sustained during contact sports are frequently seen, many concussions are the result of a trauma, including falls, motor vehicle injuries and assaults.

    Children, young adults and older adults have a greater risk of concussion and may take longer to recover after a head injury.

    Concussion facts

    • Millions of traumatic brain injuries occur in the U.S. each year, but most don't require a visit to the hospital
    • People who have had concussions before are more likely to have them again
    • Loss of consciousness does not always happen with a concussion
    • Even if your imaging tests come back clean, you may still have sustained a concussion
    • Concussions can have serious effects on your home life, work, hobbies and other activities

    Preventing concussion

    You can take a number of steps to help reduce your risk for a concussion or prevent it in your children:

    • Wear a seat belt every time you're in a motor vehicle
    • Make sure your children use the proper safety seat, booster seat or seat belt
    • Never drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol
    • Wear a helmet for activities such as riding a bicycle or motorcycle, playing contact sports, skiing, horseback riding and snowboarding
    • Reduce your risk for falls by eliminating clutter in your home, removing slippery area rugs, and installing grab bars in the bathroom if needed, especially for older adults

    Managing concussion

    Follow your doctor’s directions about avoiding sports, physical education classes, and activities such as running and bicycling while you are recovering. Returning to activities before you have been cleared to do so can cause second-impact syndrome, a rare but potentially fatal complication of concussion.

    You should also limit activities that require you to concentrate heavily. This includes taking tests if you are in school or doing tasks at work that require intense focus. You may also need to take rest breaks during the day. As your symptoms go away, you may be able to go back to your normal activities.

    If you have symptoms or problems that last more than three months, you may have a problem called post-concussion syndrome. Discuss this possibility with your doctor.

    Concussion FAQs

    Who is at risk for a concussion?

    Although athletes may be more likely to suffer a concussion while playing a sport, anyone who takes a hit to the head - big or small - can suffer from a concussion.

    How do I know if I am suffering from a concussion?

    Symptoms of a concussion can include confusion, headache, dizziness, vision problems or nausea.

    If you feel you have sustained a concussion, don't hide it or try to shake it off. You should report it right away. This is the only way to ensure a full recovery and safe return to the sport.

    Will I feel the symptoms of a concussion right away?

    Some symptoms may be present within 24-48 hours. In some cases, however, it may take weeks or months for symptoms to appear.

    Will I lose consciousness if I have a concussion?

    Not necessarily. A loss of consciousness does not need to occur for there to be a concussion.

    If you do lose consciousness, however, it may predict a more severe concussion or prolonged recovery period.

    If I have previously suffered a concussion, am I more likely to suffer another one?

    Yes. While research shows that athletes who have suffered a concussion are at greater risk of suffering another concussion, anyone is at risk for this.

    If I have symptoms of a concussion, should I continue playing during practice or a game?

    No. If you are an athlete, you should not return to your sport if you have symptoms of a concussion.

    Instead, you should see a concussion specialist and together, you can develop a plan for returning to play.

    Are there any potential long-term complications of a concussion?

    Yes. Unfortunately, some athletes will suffer from long-term symptoms after a concussion, including:

    • Depression
    • Sleep problems
    • Chronic headaches
    • Attention or concentration difficulties
    If a concussion is not appropriately recognized or treated, or if an athlete continues to play with a concussion, the risk for long-term complications increases.