A concussion is a head injury. It is caused by a blow to the head or body that shakes the brain back and forth inside the skull. A hard bump, fall or whiplash can affect the brain in ways seen by others or felt by the injured person.
Symptoms may start right away or take hours to appear. They can last from days to weeks. In rare cases, symptoms can last for months or longer.
Each concussion is unique and needs a special treatment plan. It is important to seek care when you suspect a concussion, because repeated concussions can lead to neurological issues later in life.
Symptoms of a concussion
- Mental fogginess and confusion
- Slurred speech
- Trouble remembering or concentrating
- Loss of consciousness
- Balance problems or lack of coordination
- Sensitivity to noise or light
- Numbness or tingling sensations
- Irritability, sadness or nervousness
- Feeling more emotional
- Personality changes
- Difficulty at work or school
- Changes in sleep patterns
When to go to the hospital
Not everyone with a concussion needs to be taken to the emergency room, but they should still be seen by a healthcare provider.
However, if they show any of the following symptoms, they should be taken to the emergency room immediately:
- Passing out or not responding to you
- Irregular heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, etc.
- Repeated vomiting
- Memory loss
- Headache that gets worse
- Confusion or irritability that gets worse
- If you think they may have a spine injury, skull fracture or bleeding
Concussions are a form of traumatic brain injury and can happen to anyone. They can occur in activities of daily living, in any sport or at work. Concussions can be challenging to assess because of the individual nature of symptoms and recovery for each person.
Each concussion evaluation involves taking a thorough history and a neurological and cognitive exam. This involves assessing: reflexes, balance, coordination, vision, strength, hearing, memory and ability to concentrate. Depending on the severity of the injury, your healthcare provider may order imaging tests.
Sports concussion evaluation
Our Sports Medicine experts focus on concussion prevention, diagnosis and treatment for athletes. In addition to a thorough history, neurological and cognitive exam, Gundersen Health System uses ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing).
ImPACT is a computerized evaluation program that is used by healthcare providers and athletic trainers to measure brain function such as: verbal and visual memory, brain processing time and reaction time. It is recommended that athletes take a baseline test in the pre-season. If a concussion is suspected, the baseline test can be used to see if any brain function has changed. This data can also be used to track recovery and ensure athletes are safe to return to activity.
The decision to allow physical or mental exercise following a concussion can be complex. However, return to rigorous activity, contact or collision sports, or strenuous work immediately, or too soon, is not advised. This can slow the recovery process and could lead to serious health problems.
Patients should discuss work ability and how to return to activities of daily living with their provider. Given their history and ongoing symptoms, the provider may refer patients to more specialized care (Neurology, Vestibular Therapy, etc.).
Activities that do not cause symptoms may be allowed in some cases. Return-to-play guidelines are usually given to those active in sports to ensure proper return to competition.
In addition, students diagnosed with a concussion may be given a Return-to-Learn form. This form is filled out by the provider and includes accommodations specific to that student's concussion symptoms and history. This will allow students diagnosed with a concussion to safely return to the school environment following their concussion.
Your provider will tell you what medications are safe to use for pain relief. You should only take those drugs that are approved for use.