What Is It?

Concussion is one of the most widely misunderstood and misused terms in medicine. People use the term to refer to all sorts of injuries to the head, often without a thought to the real meaning.

Literally, concusion means any traumatic blow to the head. In medical lingo, it is used to refer to any blow to the head that creates some symptom, but does not cause visible injury to the brain. Generally, the symptoms associated with a concussion is a brief loss of consciousness. However, not all definitions of the term require a loss of consciousness. For some people, even a brief period of confusion or being "dazed" is enough to call the head injury a concusion.

If a person who suffers this type of head injury is later found to have bleeding within or around the brain, or any other physical evidence of injury inside the head, this injury should not be termed a concussion. Those injuries are generally referred to by the type of hematoma or other brain injury which is present, such as an epidural hematoma or a subdural hematoma, to give two examples.

Concusions can vary from quite mild to more serious. The more serious injuries can have long-lasting effects on nervous system function. Very severe brain injury usually results in some physical damage to the brain or surrounding structures. As mentioned above, if this is the case, the injury should not be referred to as a concussion.

What Types of Symptoms Are Typical?

A blow to the head causing a loss of consciousness is considered a concusion, assuming no physical evidence of brain injury is later found. In some instances, a brief "dazed" or confused period without a loss of consciousness is enough to consider a head injury a concussion.

Other symptoms beyond a brief loss of consciousness, such as seizures, prolonged loss of consciousness, muscle weakness, pupillary changes, etc. are not consistent with a simple concussion. Any neurological symptoms after a head injury, including loss of consciousness should be evaluated by a physician.

Following more severe injuries, long-term symptoms can include memory impairment, depression, mood and personality changes, to name a few. These persistent symptoms should also be worked-up by a professional.

Following any concussion, there is evidence that the brain is more prone to further injury in the near term. Therefore, it is generally advised that athletes and others who are prone to head injuries should abstain from contact sports for a period of time following a head injury. A second head injury can cause more injury than one injury alone. Consult your physician if you have any concerns.

How Is The Diagnosis Typically Made?

If after a head injury, a patient has a period of altered consciousness or brief loss of consciousness, from which they recover, they may have had a concussion. Confirmation of this diagnosis can be made by a CT scan or other imaging that confirms that they do not have any bleeding or other intracranial injury associated with the injury. Most patients who have a minor head injury and brief loss of consciousness but recover fully in a short period of time do not present to the hospital. The presumption is generally that this was simply a concusion but this cannot be confirmed absolutely unless they undergo imaging to confirm that they have not suffered a more serious injury.

If you or someone you know has suffered a head injury and are concerned about it or have any doubt, consult a physician to have a full neurological evaluation.

What Are Some Common Treatments?

In general, for a true concusion without any other injury, no medical treatments are recommended. The patients are generally instructed to rest and to avoid contact sports or other activities which could lead to further injury. However, with more severe injuries patients may require further treatments, particularly if they have a more severe brain injury with contusion or hemorrhage in or around the brain.

As with any other medical condition, the treatment plan and options are variable depending on the specifics of each case. Patients should make these medical decisions with their own physicians who have performed a neurological evaluation.

If you or someone you know has suffered a head injury and are concerned about it or have any doubt, consult a physician to have a full neurological evaluation.

Return to the Brain Injury page from the Concussion page.

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Important Note: This site is not intended to offer medical advice. Every patient is different, and only your personal physician can help to counsel you about what is best for your situation. What we offer is general reference information about various disorders and treatments for your education.

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