The following discussion is for general informational purposes only and is not meant to provide the reader with specific medical advice. Please consult with your personal physician, or with a neurologist, for specific advice, guidance and information regarding your particular circumstances.
A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) which results from a sudden blow to head. The brain bumps against the skull as a result of acceleration followed by rapid deceleration and there is a temporary disruption of normal electrical activity. While loss of consciousness (LOC) is common with concussions, one can suffer a concussion without LOC. Severity of a concussion, however, may be related to the length of unconsciousness. While a concussion can have serious ramifications, it is usually not life threatening, unlike other forms of more serious TBI.
Motor vehicle or bicycle accidents, physical assaults, falls and sports injuries are common causes of concussion. Motor vehicle accidents account for nearly 50% of all TBI requiring hospitalization.
Many symptoms can be associated with a concussion. Loss of consciousness is the most serious presentation and should prompt immediate medical attention. Other problems which should be evaluated quickly include headache with nausea/vomiting and drowsiness with or without mental confusion. Other common symptoms of a much less worrisome nature include:
- Decreased appetite and changes in sleep habits.
- Decreased concentration.
- Feelings of depression.
- Increased irritability, anxiety, fatigue, decreased energy and malaise.
- Dizziness, lightheadedness, ringing in the ears.
- Sensitivity to light, noise and sound.
The presence of many of these symptoms is sometimes called a post-concussive syndrome, which can last weeks to months.
Your neurologist will reach a diagnosis based on history, examination and possibly testing. History includes questioning you regarding many aspects of the injury. Neurological examination includes checking memory, strength, sensation, reflexes and balance. Testing may include neuroimaging studies (CAT scan or MRI) and/or brain wave studies (EEG).
Observation may be crucial initially depending on your age and the severity of head injury. Rest is generally the cornerstone of recovery. Many individuals require a temporary decrease in their hours of work and restrictions on physical activities. Healing from a concussion can take weeks to months. Certainly one must avoid activities which increase the risk of a second head injury before all symptoms of the first head injury have resolved. One should not return to sports until cleared by your physician. In addition, your doctor can prescribe many medications such as anti-inflammatory medications and muscle relaxors to help with some of the symptoms noted above.