Concussions: What Do You Need to Know?
If you suffer a blow to your head, briefly lose consciousness and wake up with a headache, you’ll probably think you have a concussion. However, what about a jarring fall, after which you feel nauseous and irritable, even without having hit your head? That can also be the cause and symptoms of a brain injury. There are a variety of ways your brain can be injured, so it’s worth your while to become informed about the injury risk and safekeeping of this eminently important organ.
What Is a Concussion?
A concussion is an injury to your brain. It is usually considered to be a “mild” version of a traumatic brain injury (TBI) because it is typically not fatal. However, ignoring a concussion could lead to complications, so see your doctor if you think you have one.
Even though a concussion is a brain injury, you can still get one without a blow to your head. The inside of your skull is jagged, and your brain is soft. Any strong enough force, such as whiplash or a hard body check in contact sports, can cause a concussion by making your head to move rapidly so that your brain impacts that rough inner surface of your skull.
Seek immediate medical attention if, after a blow to the head or body, you experience any of the following:
- Worsening headache
- Altered coordination, weakness or numbness
- Vomiting or nausea
- Slurred speech
- Uneven pupil size
- Confusion, disorientation, amnesia or altered behavior
- Loss of consciousness
- Extreme fatigue
Stages and Types of Concussions
Concussions are usually categorized by severity into one of three grades:
- Grade one: no loss of consciousness, with initial symptoms of mental status abnormalities lasting no longer than 15 minutes
- Grade two: no loss of consciousness, with initial symptoms of mental status abnormalities lasting longer than 15 minutes
- Grade three: any loss of consciousness that accompanies other symptoms
It’s common for headaches to follow any grade of concussion, so even if a concussion is grade one and seems to resolve quickly, there may be head pain later.
Symptoms and Causes
You may only have one or two concussion symptoms, so seek medical care if you have any reason to believe that you’ve sustained a brain injury, even if some symptoms are missing.
Symptoms of a concussion include:
- Memory loss, and trouble remembering new information
- Difficulty concentrating
- Head pressure
- Seeing what looks like bright, sparkly lights
- Sounds in the ears, such as ringing
- Nausea or vomiting
- Altered speech (slurring)
- Altered mood (irritability, sadness, anxiety)
- Blurred vision
- Altered sleep (more, less, or trouble falling asleep)
Concussions can be caused by anything that moves your brain enough to injure it. It’s not just a blow to the head that causes concussions — even a fall or jolt to your body can give you a concussion. There may not be a bump on the outside to indicate damage on the inside, much like a raw egg that has been shaken but still has an unbroken shell. If your head or body has been impacted by a sudden, high force, you may have a concussion.
Prevention and Risks
Concussion prevention involves simply avoiding unnecessary activities that can result in head trauma. Risk factors for concussion include:
- Contact sports
- Accidents (cars, bicycles, pedestrian)
- Physical abuse or fighting
- Previous concussion: with each concussion you suffer, you are more vulnerable to new head trauma and are at higher risk for a new concussion.
Diagnosis and Tests
Your doctor will assess your symptoms and ask you about the event that caused them. Neurological and cognitive testing — including a check of your vision, hearing, balance, reflexes, memory and concentration — will determine if you have a concussion and its severity.
Your doctor may order imaging tests, which can show if you have brain bleeding or swelling. These tests are usually not done unless you have severe or worsening symptoms, such as repeated vomiting or seizures. Imaging tests include:
- CT scan (cranial computerized tomography) – a series of X-rays of your brain
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) – images produced using magnets and radio waves
Sometimes doctors recommend that concussion patients be hospitalized for observation, given that not all symptoms show up right away and your condition may worsen.
Treatment, Procedures, and Medication
The severity of your accident will dictate which doctor you see first. If your concussion is grade 1, for example, you might see your family physician a day or two after the event that caused it. However, if you experience any severe symptoms, you should go to a hospital where you’ll be seen by an emergency room doctor, and possibly a neurotrauma specialist.
Other doctors that you may see, depending on need, include:
- Neurosurgeon, if there is a need for medical intervention such as draining cerebral spinal fluid to relieve pressure from swelling
Your recovery management and follow-up can be supervised by your family doctor or a concussion specialist, depending on the grade of your concussion and your recovery progress.
Rest is best for the treatment of a concussion, including mental rest as well as physical. Your doctor will advise you to refrain not only from sports and exercise but also from tasks that require sustained mental effort such as reading. Even sedentary activities such as watching TV or using a computer will be off limits until your condition starts to improve.
Use acetaminophen for pain relief but avoid ibuprofen and aspirin because of increased risk of bleeding.
Ask your doctor when you can resume normal activities. Be careful not to resume sporting activities too soon because of the risk of a second concussion. Each time you have another concussion, the condition becomes more dangerous.
Healthy Lifestyle Tips
Even though a concussion is caused by a sudden impact rather than a gradual decline in health, there are still lifestyle decisions you can make to reduce your risk.
- Wear properly fitting sports equipment that is in good condition.
- Develop your neck and shoulder strength so that your head is more supported and stable.
- Know the symptoms of a concussion so that if you get one, you don’t make it worse.
- Avoid risky situations, such as rough contact sports and activities that present a danger of falling or accidents.
If you have an injury or illness anywhere else in your body, food helps you heal. The same is true with a concussion, and an injured brain needs nutrition. If you avoid certain food items and eat more of others, your concussion recovery will be easier and more successful.
Items to avoid include:
- Fried food and cooked oils
- Refined sugar
- Artificial coloring and flavoring
Food to eat more of include:
- Coconut oil
- Nuts and seeds
- Lean meat
- Fruits and vegetables
Your brain is important and is more subject to injury than you might suspect. Fortunately, concussions can heal. If you know concussion risk factors and symptoms, you can safeguard yourself from the potential complications of this injury. Be on the safe side and see your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.
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