A concussion is a mild form of traumatic brain injury that causes a temporary disturbance in brain cells that can disrupt brain function. The injury is caused by an acceleration or deceleration of the brain that jars or shakes it inside the skull. This can cause a range of physical and/or cognitive symptoms.
A significant hit to the head, neck or face is often the main cause of a concussion injury. However, in some cases, a big blow to the body can create a whiplash effect and send a painful or possibly damaging impact to the head. This can also result in concussion.
Since concussions cannot be seen on routine X-rays, CT scans or MRIs, it’s important to understand the signs and symptoms.
How can I get a concussion?
Concussions are most commonly reported in contact or high risk sports such as American football, rugby, hockey and gymnastics, for example. Other ways that someone can get a concussion may include:
- Sports injury
- Car crash
- Hit by a car
- Slip or fall
- Hit or bump to the head
- Falling down stairs
This is not an extensive list. The reality is a concussion can happen at any place at any time.
How do I know if I have a concussion?
If you have a mechanism of injury – meaning a significant blow to the head or body – and at least one symptom listed below, you should have a high suspicion of concussion.
Athletes should be immediately removed from play, and must not return until assessed and cleared by a medical doctor or licensed healthcare practitioner with training in concussion management.
Continuing to play can increase the risk for more severe, long-lasting concussion symptoms, and even increase the chance of further injury.
What are the symptoms of concussion?
There are four main categories of concussion symptoms: cognitive / mental; physical; emotional; and sleep-related. Every concussion is unique, and each person may experience symptoms differently.
Remember, you should suspect a concussion if at least one of these symptoms is present following contact. Each case is different. Some people may experience a few of these whereas others may experience many more.
- Difficulty thinking
- Difficulty remembering
- Trouble concentrating
- “Pressure in the head”
- Vision disturbances
- Balance problems and incoordination
- Fatigue or lack of energy
- Neck pain
- Seizure or convulsion
- Loss of consciousness
- More emotional (such as unexplained outbursts of anger or sadness)
- Feeling “off” or “slowed down”
- Feeling like in a “fog”
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Sleeping more or less than usual
- Poor sleep quality
Never forget the signs and symptoms of concussion with this free infographic.
Red flags to watch out for!
If any of the below symptoms are present following a big hit to the head or body, immediately go to the nearest emergency room or call emergency services. Presentation of these symptoms increase the likelihood of more serious injuries that need to be looked at right away!
- Extreme drowsiness
- Loss of consciousness (more than 30 seconds) or cannot be woken up
- Multiple episodes of vomiting
- Alcohol or drug intoxication at the time of injury
- Short-term memory problems
- Decreasing consciousness or awareness
- Increasing confusion or irritability
- Bad or increasing headache
- Fluid or blood coming from the nose, mouth, eyes or ears
- Black eyes or bruising on the face or behind the ears
- Unsteadiness walking or standing
- Dangerous mechanism of injury (e.g., falling down stairs)
- Slurring speech
- Numbness or weakness in the arms or legs
- Complaints of neck pain
- Double vision
There is no single objective measure that can diagnose a concussion; concussions remain a clinical diagnosis. To make this diagnosis, healthcare practitioners may make look at a series of variables that could indicate head trauma. The difficulty with this, however, is that healthcare professionals often need to know your pre-injury function (known as concussion “baseline testing”) in order to be able to accurately interpret the results.
This article is not intended as a substitute for the medical advice of doctors and/or healthcare professionals. The reader should consult their physician and/or healthcare providers in matters relating to their health, and in particular, with respect to any concussion and/or symptoms that may require diagnosis or medical attention.