What Are the Danger Signs of a Concussion?

How to Recognize the Presence of a Concussion

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Fans of NFL football are familiar with the term concussion, as it is something that the players deal with often. A concussion is an injury to the brain that comes from a solid hit to the noggin (such as getting tackled in football) or a shockwave (such as an explosion). Such impact causes the brain to rattle around inside of the skull and causes damage.

Symptoms of a concussion can range from the obvious brain injury to very subtle changes in behavior.

Researchers aren't completely sure how a concussion works, but it definitely affects the brain's ability to function correctly, at least in the short term. Research regarding concussions and their overall impact on the brain is ongoing. 

Diagnosing A Concussion 

Diagnosing a concussion can be complicated. There are several signs or symptoms that can indicate when someone has suffered an injury to the brain. It is important to have someone who is specifically trained in recognizing concussions to evaluate possible symptoms. These are some red flags to look for after a hard hit on the head:

  • Inability to pay attention
  • Memory loss (for example, an athlete should know where the game is, what quarter/half it is, who scored last, who the team played last week and which team won the last game he or she played)

Plus for very young kids, besides all the above signs, you should also look for:

  • Won't stop crying
  • Won't eat or nurse

Those are all signs of a concussion (things an observer can see), but the symptoms (things the victim feels) are important as well. If the victim complains about any of these symptoms after a hit on the head—especially if any of the previous signs are also present—the victim should not continue the high risk behavior (playing or practicing, getting behind the wheel, going back to combat, etc) until evaluated by a healthcare provider:

It's not required to have all of these—or even more than one—for an injury to the brain to have occurred. Indeed, there's a common misconception that in order for an injury to be considered a concussion the victim has to get knocked out or not remember what happened, but that is incorrect. Any of these symptoms could potentially be a sign of a concussion.

More severe traumatic brain injuries may look exactly like concussions at first, followed by a period of time that the patient appears to be getting better—sometimes referred to as talk and die syndrome. It sounds ominous, but it's rare. It doesn't matter if the patient has all these signs and symptoms or just one or two. When in doubt, call 'em out.

Treatment

Right now, there is no first aid treatment for concussions. Treatment is all about recognizing the signs and symptoms of concussion in order to prevent more severe injuries. Football players are to stay out of the game and soldiers off the front lines as long as necessary following a concussion. It's one thing to be a little dizzy after hitting your head accidentally and resting until you feel better, but it's something else entirely to go back into a football game and risk another hit.

Concussions are a big deal. Indeed, having multiple concussions is linked to neurological conditions similar to Parkinson's and Lou Gerig's disease.

Despite the danger, concussions are still considered the mildest form of traumatic brain injury. The biggest problem is telling the difference between a concussion and a more severe traumatic brain injury. Figuring it out requires a CT scan and thorough medical evaluation.

After getting a concussion (typically referred to as post concussion treatment), patients should be evaluated by a physician specially trained to care for concussion injuries, usually a neurologist. The physician will guide the patient on how to treat concussion symptoms, whether with over-the-counter medications for nausea and headache or by follow-up testing, such as CT or MRI scans.

Don't underestimate the power of a concussion. It may seem like a minor injury, especially if the victim wasn't knocked out. You may think you just "got your bell rung" when a hit on the noggin makes you see stars. However, once a person has suffered one concussion, it's easier to get the next one. This is why professional football players are at a higher risk, as they are susceptible to multiple concussions. Steps should be taken to protect your head and brain whenever possible. 

Sources:

CDC. "Concussion: What are the Signs and Symptoms of Concussion?CDC. 8 Mar 2010.​

Guskiewicz, K.M., et al. "Research based recommendations on management of sport related concussion: summary of the National Athletic Trainers' Association position statement." Br J Sports Med. 2006 Jan; 40(1): 6–10.

Theye, Fred and Karla A. Mueller. "'Heads Up': Concussions in High School Sports." Clin Med Res. 2004 Aug; 2(3): 165–171.

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