Concussion is by far the most common type of brain injury. It is comparatively minor and the brain typically heals without specific treatment within a few weeks or months provided there is no re-injury.
As comforting as that might sound to someone who’s suffered a head injury, it doesn’t really answer the questions “Was it just a concussion?” and “How can I be sure it’s not something worse?”
Was It Just a Concussion?
When the brain strikes the interior of the skull because of a blow to the head or a violent head movement, brain function is disrupted. Researchers are still trying to understand exactly what happens in a concussion, but current belief is that concussion symptoms can appear without any apparent physical damage to the brain.
Concussion symptoms are similar to the symptoms of many other diseases, injuries and psychological problems so there can be some risk of misdiagnosis by attributing the symptoms of some other illness to being the result of a minor head injury.
Nonetheless, doctors have a routine list of common symptoms that occur following a concussion. Not all of these symptoms occur, and the symptoms experienced may vary depending on the location and severity of the injury. Physical symptoms commonly appear soon afterward, while changes in mood or mental function may not be apparent until days later.
- Loss of consciousness immediately following the injury
- Headache, nausea, or vomiting
- Dizziness, difficulty with balance
- Drowsiness or insomnia
- Weakness, fatigue
- Double or blurred vision, or sensitivity to light
- Ringing in the ears or decreased hearing ability
- Decreased ability to taste or smell
Cognitive (Mental) Symptoms
- No memory of events immediately before or after the injury
- Difficulty concentrating
- Repeatedly asking the same question
- Slow thinking
- Poor judgment
- Poor work performance
- Irritability, anxiety, or restlessness
- Mood swings
- Decreased sex drive
How Can I Be Sure It’s Not Something Worse?
If you have any doubt as to the severity of the injury, see a doctor. Physicians will very likely rely on the Canadian Head CT Rule to evaluate whether a CT scan is advisable to diagnose a more serious traumatic brain injury. Following this rule, the doctor classifies the injured person as high risk, medium risk or low risk.
- Low score on the Glasgow Coma Scale
- Evidence of an open, depressed or basilar skull fracture
- Vomiting more than twice
- Age over 65
- Amnesia of longer than 30 minutes
- The injury occurred from a vehicle accident, being ejected from a vehicle, or a fall from a height greater than 3 feet
Those in the high and moderate risk categories get CT scans. Those not in the high or medium risk category are sent home with instructions to come back if symptoms change or worsen.
- The Glasgow Coma Scale
- Head Injuries – Types of Skull Fractures
- MRI vs. CT Scan in Determining Brain Injuries
- NFL Concussions: Ben Roethlisberger
- NFL Concussions: Brandon Stokely
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