Elizabeth Smoots, MD
A concussion is an injury to your brain that causes problems with how the brain works. It can affect brain tasks like memory, balance, concentration, judgement, and coordination.
Most will have a full recovery but the brain will need time to heal with the proper rest and monitoring.
A concussion is caused by a sudden, violent jolt to the brain. The force can cause stretching and tearing to the brain and soft tissue that supports it. Forces that can cause this type of damage include:
Factors that may increase your chance of a concussion include:
Concussions most often occur with:
A concussion can cause symptoms that may last for days, weeks, or even longer. They may be immediately present or appear a few hours or days after the injury. The symptoms that develop will depend on the severity of the injury. More common symptoms are listed below.
Physical symptoms may include:
Mental and emotional symptoms may include:
A doctor should be consulted if serious symptoms like confusion and vomiting occur or if symptoms get worse.
Young children may not be able to clearly communicate symptoms. Talk to a doctor if the child has had a head injury and is showing any of the following symptoms:
You will be asked about your symptoms and how the injury occurred. Others who witnessed the accident may also be asked to describe what happened and how you reacted. A physical exam will be done. It will often include brief tests for strength, sensation, balance, reflexes, and memory. The doctor will often be able to diagnose a concussion based on the exam and history.
A CT scan may be done if there are severe symptoms or certain risk factors but are not always needed.
The brain can often heal on its own with some rest and avoiding activities that may be harmful while it heals. Normal activities can be resumed when tolerated and advised by the doctor. Strenuous physical activity and sports participation may be resumed depending on the severity of your concussion and individual symptoms. Symptoms will gradually fade during recovery.
There may be cognitive problems after a concussion that can make mentally-demanding tasks more difficult. Early in recovery, activities that need concentration like work or schoolwork may need to be limited. For children this also includes avoiding video games, watching television, computer activities, or texting.
Increase mental and physical activities gradually as recommended by your doctor based on how you feel. Symptoms, balance, cognition and tolerance to current activity levels may be tested throughout recovery. This information will be used to decide if further rest is needed or it is time to progress to the next step.
Although returning to mental or physical activities too quickly might make symptoms worse and slow the recovery process, they will not affect your overall recovery. Strict rest is not needed.
The brain is more vulnerable to injuries while it is healing. Re-injury can lead to more severe or long-term symptoms. Precautions should be taken with:
Second head injury can be especially dangerous in children and adolescents (second impact syndrome). Even a mild second head injury in children and adolescents can lead to serious damage to the brain. This can lead to unconsciousness and even death.
A closed head injury is often the result of an accident which can be difficult to prevent. To decrease the chance of severe injuries during an accident:
To prevent accidents at home that can lead to concussions:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Brain Injury Association of Canada
Ontario Brain Injury Association
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Last reviewed February 2017 by Warren A. Bodine, DO, CAQSM
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