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A concussion is a type of brain injury that can affect the way your brain normally functions. Concussion results from a bump, blow or jolt to the head or to the body that causes the head and brain to move quickly back and forth inside the skull. This injury to the brain can lead to a wide spectrum of symptoms and puts extra demands on the body to recover.
Concussion can cause a number of symptoms such as headache, fatigue, sleep disturbance, irritability, sensitivity to noise or light, balance problems and poor concentration and memory. In a small number of cases, if left untreated, these symptoms can persist.
At UCSF, our Sports Concussion Program specializes in the evaluation, diagnosis and management of concussions of all kinds. We have a particular expertise in concussions affecting young and adult athletes caused by sports accidents, the most common cause of concussions in teens. Our team includes experts from sports medicine, physical medicine and rehabilitation, neuropsychology, neuroradiology, neurology, physical therapy and neurosurgery.
Signs & symptoms
Symptoms of concussions differ for each person and with each injury. Symptoms may not be noticeable right away and may develop in the hours or days following an injury, or when the demands of regular life are resumed. It is important that you contact your doctor right away if you develop symptoms. If you have suffered a blow to the head, neck or body and you aren't "feeling like yourself" or "normal," seek medical help from a specialist who has experience in recognizing and managing concussion.
Eighty to ninety percent of people with a concussion recover quickly and fully, but for some people, symptoms can last for weeks and even months. Older adults, young children and teens usually take the longest to recover from concussions. In addition, if you have suffered a concussion in the past, you are at a greater risk of having another one, and may find that it takes longer to recover.
Common symptoms of concussion include:
- Difficulty remembering or paying attention
- Balance problems or dizziness
- Feeling sluggish, hazy, foggy or groggy
- Feeling irritable, more emotional or "down"
- Nausea or vomiting
- Sensitivity to light or noise
- Double or blurry vision
- Slowed reaction time
- Sleep problems (sleeping more than usual, less than usual or having trouble falling asleep)
- Loss of consciousness
You may find that your symptoms reappear or get worse when you are doing something that requires a lot of concentration, such as working, studying or playing video games, or doing physically demanding activities, such as sports, exercising or house cleaning.
A concussion is diagnosed when a person suffers a blow to the head, neck or body and then experiences typical concussion symptoms such as headache, confusion or fogginess. Sometimes, concussion symptoms do not present immediately and may become more apparent in the next days.
The diagnosis of concussion is made on the basis of the type of injury and the patient's symptoms. Unfortunately at the present time, there is not a test that proves whether or not you have a concussion. Some patients will have a CT (computed tomography) scan of the brain to check for any sign of bleeding in the brain. In concussions, typical brain CT scans and MRIs are almost always normal because the injury caused by concussions is too microscopic to be seen by these tests. A series of neuropsychological and neurocognitive tests can be conducted to assess learning and memory skills, concentration level and the ability to think and solve problems.
Your health care professional will send you home with important instructions that will help your brain to heal. It is very important that you follow these instructions carefully to aid your recovery. If you are waiting to be seen by a healthcare professional, it is important to slowdown the pace of life to allow the brain to heal. This usually means stopping cognitive activities such as school, work, TV, laptop, phones, as well as resting from physical exercise.
More than 80 percent of concussions resolve very successfully within the first three weeks following an injury, if they are managed correctly. Therefore, if you think you or your loved one has suffered a concussion, it is critical that you contact your doctor right away. Getting help soon after your injury by a medical provider who is trained in the evaluation and treatment of concussion may improve your recovery.
Each person recovers from a concussion differently. Recovery depends on factors such as a person's age and health before the concussion, the severity of their concussion, whether they have had any other concussions in the past, and how they take care of themselves after the concussion. Your doctor will provide you with specific instructions to aid your recovery.
Treatment will depend on your symptoms, including emotional, physical and cognitive. It is important to note that emotional problems such as anxiety or depression are common. Your provider will develop a specific treatment plan for you and help guide you on the track to recovery.
It is very important that you have physical and mental rest after a concussion because rest helps the brain to heal. Accept that it will take time to rebuild your stamina. Only when your symptoms have reduced significantly, and with your health care professional's consultation, should you gradually resume your normal routine. Sometimes, people find that their symptoms come back or they develop new symptoms. This is a sign that you are doing too much, too soon. Stop these activities and take more time to rest and recover. As the days go by, you can expect to gradually feel better.
UCSF Benioff Children's Hospitals medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your child's doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your child's provider.
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