What is a concussion?
A concussion is an injury to the brain, usually as a result of a direct blow to the head. Concussions commonly occur in sports, or from violent shaking or deceleration of the head, which occurs in motor vehicle accidents or falls. These injuries may or may not involve loss of consciousness and/or amnesia. Amnesia can be either difficulty remembering new information after the injury or remembering events before the injury.
A concussion affects a person’s thinking, behavior, motor skills and overall functional capacity. These effects may appear hours or days following the injury. Generally, they are transient, but can last for weeks to months after, a condition called post-concussion syndrome.
What should I do if I think I have a concussion?
Consult your family doctor or go to the ER if you suspect a concussion. Serious signs and symptoms, such as prolonged loss of consciousness (greater than 1 min.), severe headache, severe neck pain, weakness or numbness in the extremities, convulsion(s), vomiting, altered mental status or significant changes in behavior, amnesia, or visual changes, merit immediate ER evaluation.
Call 911 if the injured person cannot safely walk themselves, or complains of neck pain in association with their head injury. Paramedics are skilled in the safe immobilization and transport to the hospital of people with head and neck injuries. An ER evaluation may include a CT scan of the head. This will tell your doctor whether a skull fracture has occurred, or if there is any bleeding or swelling in the brain.
How long will it take to recover?
A person is considered recovered from a concussion when all symptoms, including headache, light or noise sensitivity, amnesia, thinking or cognitive impairment, irritability, low energy levels/sluggishness, balance or reaction time impairment, have resolved both at rest and with exercise. This may take hours to months. For symptoms lasting longer than two weeks, further evaluation by a specialist skilled in managing traumatic brain injury, such as a neurologist or neurosurgeon, is recommended.
Micheal Rush, MD, is board-certified in emergency medicine and on staff at Missouri Baptist Medical Center. He earned his medical degree from the University of Missouri School of Medicine – Columbia and completed a combined internship/residency in emergency medicine at Johns Hopkins Hospital.