A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, jolt, or blow to the head. The sudden movement causes the brain to bounce around or twist inside the skull. This leads to stretching and damaging of brain cells and chemical changes in the brain. A jolt to the body can also cause a concussion if the impact is strong enough to cause the head to forcefully jerk backwards, forwards, or to the side.
A concussion is classified as "mild" because it is not usually life-threatening. However, the effects from a concussion can be serious and last for days, weeks, or even longer.
Adolescents are at higher risk because of their developing brains. The high school athlete has a greater risk than the college athlete, and the college athlete a greater risk than the professional athlete.
Motor vehicle accidents, falls, and sports injuries are common causes of concussions. Any sport that involves contact can result in a concussion.
Among children, most concussions happen on the playground, while bike riding, or when playing sports such as football, basketball, or soccer.
The most common symptom of a concussion is a headache. This is an especially serious symptom if the headache gets worse over time, which might mean that there is bleeding in the skull.
Other symptoms include:
Other danger signs are:
In children, the signs to seek emergency treatment include:
Concussion symptoms usually appear within minutes of the blow to the head. Some symptoms may take several hours to appear. Symptoms can change days later; others can develop when the brain is stressed by such activities as reading or running.
A loss of consciousness (greater than one minute), a neck injury, or symptoms such as weakness or numbness that persists are reasons to send the athlete to the emergency room.
The doctor will check for physical signs, thinking, capability, and mood symptoms and try to determine if the head trauma is a concussion, skull fracture, or something else. A CT scan or MRI might be done to check for bleeding inside the skull. However, these tests do not show the cell injuries caused by a concussion.
In addition, the following methods may be used in diagnosing a concussion:
The main treatment for a concussion is rest. Your doctor may tell you to take time off from work or school. Over time, the symptoms will go away as your brain heals.
Symptoms typically last about 6 to 10 days, depending on how severe the concussion is. Most people get better within a week. People with symptoms that last more than one week should see their doctor.
General advice for treating a concussion includes the following:
An injured athlete should come out of the game or practice to be tested on the sidelines by a person trained in concussion symptoms. An athlete with concussion symptoms should not play again that day, and should not play as long as symptoms last. The athlete might need to wait 1 to 2 weeks or longer before being cleared to play again.
Coaches and trainers can help the treatment process by noting the following information:
In the first phase of concussion, the person should not take any pain medications. A pain medication can "mask" the symptoms, which could allow someone to return to activities with a concussion.
After a concussion is diagnosed, acetaminophen can be used; however, it should not be given just to cover up headaches. Aleve and ibuprofen (NSAID-type medications) should not be used at first, as they may increase the risk of bleeding.
To reduce the risk of concussions:
Most people make a full recovery after a concussion. How quickly they get better depends on how severe the injury was, how healthy they were before the injury, and how well they follow their treatment plan. In all cases, rest is one of the most important treatments for a concussion because it helps the brain to heal.
It's helpful to identify and avoid things that cause your symptoms. For instance, if symptoms get worse when you read for 10 minutes, decrease to eight minutes. Or if they increase with bright light, try lowering the lights or wearing sunglasses.
While recovering from a concussion, it is important to avoid anything that could cause another jolt or blow to the head or body. A repeat concussion that occurs before the brain has recovered from a first one can slow permanent recovery and increase the chances for long-lasting problems. These problems include difficulties with concentration and memory, headaches, and sometimes physical skills such as keeping one's balance.
Before an athlete can return to play, he or she must be totally symptom-free and return to his or her concussion baseline (pre-concussion) scores. Once the athlete has returned to baseline, he or she should start a five-day program in which he or she increases activities while any symptoms are monitored. If any symptoms return, the athlete should return to complete rest.
Once you have a concussion, you are at three to five times greater risk for later concussions.
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 01/02/2015