What is a concussion? How do I know if I have one?

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Written by: Tyler Schwarz, LAT with Agnesian HealthCare Sports, Spine & Work Center

Concussions have been a very popular and hot topic the last couple of years, especially in the world of sports.  But many individuals are unsure what constitutes a concussion, and as a result, do not know if they or a family member has one and what to do.

Many people think that a concussion is a bruise to the brain and that it requires a major hit to the head or a loss of consciousness. This could not be farther from the truth. A concussion is a chemical imbalance in the brain and can happen from a minor hit in a sporting event, to slipping and falling, to a car accident. When this happens, the brain moves around inside the skull and neurons in the brain can be stretched and rupture open. When this happens, potassium ions rush out of the cell and toxic calcium ions rush into the cell. This causes a metabolic dysfunction in the neuron and ultimately an energy crisis. It is during this time when the cell and the brain are extremely vulnerable for further injury. The brain does heal itself; it just takes days and maybe even weeks to do it.

There are many ways or signs that the brain tells you it is injured. While most of these will appear soon after the trauma to the brain occurred, they may not always. The most common symptoms are headaches, pressure in the head, feeling tired, confusion, balance concerns, blurred vision, just not feeling right, and nausea or vomiting. There are also symptoms that may show up later: sensitivity to light and noise, difficulty concentrating and remembering, sleeping more than usual or trouble falling asleep. The majority of these symptoms will get worse with activity, such as sports practice, gym class, work and/or a day of school.

Now what do you do if you or a family member has some of these symptoms or had an injury where the head was hit? See your primary care provider or athletic trainer.  A complete evaluation of your memory, balance and cognition will help determine the extent of injury.  In most cases, a trip to the emergency department is not necessary. If the individual becomes lethargic, more confused or begins vomiting those would be indicators for emergency attention.

After the initial injury occurs, it is at this time that you and your brain are more vulnerable for further injury. If another brain injury occurs before the first one is healed this is called Second Impact Syndrome.   This second trauma can cause serious issues like permanent damage to the brain, paralysis or even death.  At Agnesian HealthCare, we have a concussion clinic where we use ImPACT (an on-line neurocognitive test) to help determine if you have a concussion, how bad it may be, and return to play/lifestyle.

If you have any other questions on concussions or would just like more information on concussions, visit agnesian.com/concussions.

About Agnesian Bone and Joint Health

Patients receive individualized assessment and treatment within the Agnesian Bone & Joint Health’s continuum of care, from diagnosis to rehabilitation. The team features board-certified orthopedic surgeons, podiatric medicine and surgery (foot and ankle), physical therapists, athletic trainers and physical therapy assistants. The rehabilitation staff at Agnesian HealthCare’s Sports, Spine & Work Center specializes in one-on-one treatment in state-of-the-art facilities.

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