A concussion is the most common type of traumatic brain injury. Read about the causes, signs, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.
A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that results from a blow to the head. It can affect brain function, which is generally temporary. It can lead to headaches, concentration problems, memory loss, poor balance, and coordination. Concussions can also result from violent shaking or a jolt to the head (whiplash-type injury), which makes the brain move violently back and forth inside the skull. Sometimes, the person might also lose consciousness.
The most common cause of concussion is a fall. It is also a common contact sports injury or injury sustained due to a car crash. This TBI is usually not life-threatening but needs immediate medical attention if it leads to severe symptoms.
Concussions and contusions are quite different. A contusion, otherwise called a bruise, is the blackish discoloration of the skin due to the collection of blood underneath. This blood gets pooled because of injury to the small blood vessels or capillaries. Contusions can also occur in the head.
The signs and symptoms can be subtle and can last for weeks after the injury. The common signs include:
Amnesia - Loss of memory, usually related to the traumatic event.
The other physical signs and symptoms are:
Tinnitus - Ringing in the ears.
Some people may also experience:
Loss of taste and smell.
Light and sound sensitivity.
Loss of consciousness.
Signs and symptoms in children:
As children do cannot tell you how they feel, look out for these signs and symptoms if your child had a head injury recently:
Change in sleeping patterns.
Show no interest in things he or she likes.
Get tired easily.
The child might appear dazed (inability to react properly).
Become more cranky.
As the hard skull surrounds the brain, it is cushioned by the cerebrospinal fluid to prevent injury due to everyday jolts. This cushioning is not sufficient when your head or neck encounters a violent blow, which makes the brain move and hit the skull from inside. The common causes for such injury are:
High-risk sports like football, rugby, and boxing.
Motor vehicle accidents.
When you visit the hospital after a head injury, the doctor will:
Perform a physical examination.
Perform a neurological examination to evaluate your vision, strength, sensations, hearing, reflexes, balance, and coordination.
Evaluate your thinking skills, which include your memory and concentration.
Check for changes in pupil size, light sensitivities, and eye movements.
If needed, you might have to get an MRI scan or a CT scan of your brain. This will help the doctor to check for serious brain injuries. If you have seizures, the doctor might perform an electroencephalogram to monitor your brain waves.
Depending on how severe your symptoms are, your doctor will decide the treatment. If your brain is bleeding, or if the brain swells or the brain is seriously injured, then you might need surgery.
This being said, most concussions do not require surgery. The other treatment options include:
Painkillers (Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen) for headaches.
Get plenty of rest.
Avoid sports and other strenuous activities.
Do not drive a vehicle for 24 hours or a few weeks (based on how severe your symptoms are).
Avoid drinking, as it might slow recovery.
Post-traumatic headaches - Headaches that can last for up to a week after a brain injury.
Post-traumatic vertigo - Some people have vertigo (a feeling of dizziness) for days or weeks.
Post-concussion syndrome - The symptoms of a concussion last for weeks or months rather than some days.
Second impact syndrome - When a second concussion occurs before the symptoms of a first concussion have resolved, it may cause fatal brain swelling.
The following tips might minimize the risk of head injury:
While playing sports or other recreational activities, wear protective gear.
The protective gear should fit properly and worn correctly.
Install window guards and block stairways if you have a child at home.
Improve your balance by exercising regularly.
Wear a helmet while riding a bike or motorcycling.
Wear a seat belt while driving, as it may prevent serious head injury during an accident.
Childproof your apartment. This will prevent your child from falling or tripping over, which is the leading cause of a concussion.
Most patients recover from concussions in a few weeks. In some, the symptoms might last for months after the injury. Sometimes, patients experience emotional, physical, or mental changes that are long-lasting. Make sure you rest and avoid repeat concussions to prevent permanent brain damage.
Are you suffering from similar symptoms after a head injury? Talk to an experienced neurologist online through phone or video call.
Last reviewed at:
10 Dec 2020 - 5 min read
Query: Hello doctor, I fell to the side of car four months back and have symptoms of memory problems. Also, some mental confusion, lights, and difficulty reading. No headaches. I did have an odd spell of paraesthesia that lasted five minutes a week or so after head injury. I inched better. Then next month ... Read Full »
Query: Hi doctor, I have had persistent, recurrent headaches and shooting head pains due to a concussion from a traumatic brain injury, that I acquired five years back. The doctor has described my headaches as tension-type headaches, I have pain behind the eyes mainly, but it can be on the top of the head... Read Full »
Query: Hi doctor, The other night, my 13 months old daughter started screaming like crazy, I ran and picked her up and tried to walk around the room to soothe her, and I accidentally slipped while holding her and she fell on the floor. As I was slipping, I fell knee first, and at that point in that micros... Read Full »
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