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Important Facts to Know about Concussions and Brain Injuries

  A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) that is caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head or by a hit to the body. This impact causes the brain to move rapidly back and forth in the skull, which can stretch blood vessels and damage cranial nerves, causing damage to brain cells and creating chemical changes in the brain.

Increase in Concussions

In 2013, 640,000 people visited emergency rooms because of concussions and 18,000 people were hospitalized. The number of Americans diagnosed with concussions is increasing, particularly among youth. Researchers say this may be due to two factors: more young kids playing sports and an increased awareness about concussions, leading more people to seek medical attention after a possible TBI. Male patient explaining headache to physician.

While many concussions are sports-related injuries, other common causes of concussions include motor vehicle collisions, falls and assault. Concussions are most common in children but can occur in any age group.

Symptoms of a Concussion

Immediate symptoms of a concussion include:

  • Any period with a decreased level of consciousness—although you do not need to lose consciousness to have a concussion
  • Any lack of memory of events immediately before or after the injury
  • Any alteration in mental state at the time of the injury such as confusion, disorientation, slowed thinking
  • Headache
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Loss of balance
  • Visual and auditory sensitivity
  • Feeling dazed

Symptoms usually go away in the first few days, but for some people the symptoms can last for weeks or months.

Even if the injury is mild, it still can affect all aspects of life, including relationships with family and friends, and the ability to work, do household tasks, drive and/or participate in other activities of daily living.

TBI affects children differently than adults. This type of injury can disrupt a child’s developmental trajectory and may require restrictions in school and/or participation in activities. Children can experience changes in their health, thinking and behavior that may affect learning, self-regulation and social participation.  Although most children recover well physically, they often experience changes in behavior and cognition that may not be recognized immediately.

Detecting and Treating a Concussion

If you think you or a family member has a concussion, seek medical attention immediately. A primary care physician, urgent care center or emergency room can provide the appropriate medical attention, including neurologic examination, cognitive testing, imaging and treatment.

The most important treatment for a concussion is getting ample rest—physically and mentally. Avoiding strenuous activity and modifying your daily schedule helps the recovery process. If you have headaches, talk with your physician about medication options, including over-the-counter and prescription pain medications.

Cognitive rest also helps recover from a concussion. Limiting thinking and concentration tasks, including reading and computer work, may lead to faster recovery by avoiding strenuous mental activity. These activities can be increased gradually as recovery continues.

Additional therapies such as speech/language and neuropsychology also may be a part of the treatment plan.

How to Avoid Concussions

Not all concussions can be avoided, but some common-sense practices can decrease the odds of having one.

  • Wear a seatbelt while in a car or a helmet while riding a motorcycle or bike can provide protection in an accident.
  • Wear appropriate protective gear during contact sports.
  • Use prescribed assistive devices while walking to prevent falls.

The Takeaway on Concussions

After injury, concussions often go unnoticed in the beginning, but can lead to serious mental and physical issues later. Cognitive impairment can lead to decreased quality of life and limited ability to perform at work and school. But better awareness of concussions is key to identifying the possible causes, early signs, and need for evaluation and treatment.

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