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Don’t fall short on diagnosing a concussion

Many times the word “concussion” gets tossed around when someone has fallen or been hit in the head at a sporting event. But how many of us actually know what happens in the brain for a concussion to occur or how to gauge the seriousness of one?

A concussion is defined as a type of traumatic brain injury usually caused by a blow to the head or body, a fall or another injury that jars or shakes the brain. This blow or jolt to the head triggers a complex flood of physiologic events that lead to a disruption in the proper functioning of the brain reflected by a group of signs and symptoms.

Many times when I see patients who have concussions, they occur while playing sports with physical contact, such as basketball, football, soccer, snowboarding, hockey, boxing and wrestling. Although there may be bruises or scrapes, there are no other outward signs of a concussion. People don’t even have to loss consciousness to have one.

Sometimes it’s easy to determine if a person has just experienced a concussion. They might pass out or have no recollection of what just happened to them. Other times they might appear fine and show symptoms hours later. There are four symptom areas you should look out for:

  • Brain Function – this includes not being able to think clearly, remember things or concentrate. You may feel like all your brain functions have slowed down.
  • Physical Issues – headaches, blurred vision, sensitivity to light or sound, problems with your balance, no energy and nausea or vomiting may all indicate you have had a concussion.
  • Emotional Issues – feeling more anxious, sad, upset or angered than usual could also signal a brain injury.
  • Sleep – mark down if it is taking you longer to fall asleep and if you are sleeping more or less than usual.

So how do you know if that bump on your head is serious or not? It’s always best to see a doctor within one to two days of a concussion. However, be sure to seek emergency medical attention if you experience memory loss, a constant or worsening headache, dizziness, confusion, slow moving mental function or changes in behavior.

Some patients with traumatic injuries to the head require neuroimaging studies (CT, MRI) to rule out an injury to the structure of the brain. Because concussions are not a problem with the anatomic structure of the brain, these studies are normal. The brain dysfunction associated with concussions can be evaluated further by your physician with a neuropsychological test.

Recovery from a concussion can take a few hours up to a few weeks. Repeated concussions or a severe concussion might cause long-term problems with speech, movement or learning capabilities.  Don’t return to sports or physical activity the same day as the injury or if you suffer any of the above symptoms afterward. If this is the case, wait until you’ve gotten your doctor’s approval before returning to play.

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