Concussion

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.

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.

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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.

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Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital.

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UCSF Clinics & Centers

Sports Concussion Program
1500 Owens St., Second Floor
San Francisco, CA 94158
Phone: (415) 353-1915
Fax: (415) 514-6075
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