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What is a concussion?

A concussion is an injury to the tissue or blood vessels of the brain. It is usually caused by a bump or blow to the head from a fall, a motor vehicle crash, or a sports injury. Sometimes being forcefully shaken may cause a concussion.

What are the signs and symptoms of a concussion?

Right after the injury you may be dazed, lose consciousness, or have a seizure. Symptoms may occur right away, or not happen for days to weeks after your concussion. They may last anywhere from a few hours to several weeks. After the injury, you may have one or more of these symptoms:

  • Mild to moderate headache
  • Dizziness or loss of balance
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Change in mood, such as restlessness or irritability
  • Trouble thinking, remembering things, or concentrating
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Drowsiness or decreased energy
  • Changes in your normal sleeping pattern

How is a concussion diagnosed?

Your caregiver will ask how you were injured and examine you. You may need the following tests:

  • Neurologic exam: Your caregiver will check how your pupils react to light. He may check your memory. Your hand grasp and balance may also be tested.
  • X-ray: You may need an x-ray of your neck or head. This is done to check for other injuries, such as a fracture.
  • CT scan: An x-ray uses a computer to take pictures of your brain. You may be given dye before the pictures are taken to help caregivers see the pictures better. Tell caregivers if you are allergic to iodine or shellfish. You may also be allergic to the dye.
  • MRI: This scan uses powerful magnets and a computer to take pictures of your head and blood vessels. You may be given dye to help the pictures show up better. Tell caregivers if you are allergic to iodine or shellfish. You may also be allergic to the dye. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell caregivers if you have any metal in or on your body.

How is a concussion treated?

Usually no treatment is needed for a mild concussion.

  • Ibuprofen or acetaminophen: These medicines are used to decrease pain. They are available without a doctor's order. Ask your caregiver which medicine is right for you. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow your caregiver's directions. These medicines can cause stomach bleeding if not taken correctly. Ibuprofen can cause kidney damage. Do not take ibuprofen if you have kidney disease, an ulcer, or allergies to aspirin. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage. Do not drink alcohol if you take acetaminophen.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Rest: Rest in bed or do quiet activities for 24 hours after your concussion. You may return to normal activities after your symptoms go away.
  • Ice: Ice helps decrease swelling and pain. Ice may also help prevent tissue damage. Use an ice pack or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover the ice pack with a towel and place it on your head for 15 to 20 minutes every hour for up to 2 days after your injury.
  • Activity restrictions: You may not be able to play sports or to do activities that could result in a blow to the head. It is dangerous to receive another concussion before the brain has recovered from the first one. Your caregiver will let you know when it is okay for you to return to normal activities and sports.

What are the risks of a concussion?

  • Rarely, some people may develop post-concussion syndrome (PCS). Symptoms of PCS may not start for several weeks or months after an injury, and usually go away over time. Some people may need further treatment. You may have symptoms, such as a headache or vision changes, with PCS. You may also become anxious, depressed, have difficulty managing anger, or have problems with your memory.
  • You may also have had other injuries at the same time as the concussion, like a neck or face injury. The longer you were unconscious, the more serious the concussion may be. Each additional concussion you have may increase your risk for long-lasting problems. These problems include poor coordination, or trouble thinking or concentrating. Having repeated concussions can be life-threatening.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You have nausea or vomiting.
  • You feel more sleepy than usual.
  • Your symptoms get worse.
  • Your symptoms last longer than 6 weeks after the injury.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have a severe headache.
  • You vomit multiple times.
  • Someone tries to wake you and cannot do so.
  • You have a seizure, increasing confusion, or a change in personality.
  • Your speech becomes slurred, or you have new vision problems.
  • You have arm or leg weakness, numbness, or new problems with coordination.
  • You have blood or clear fluid coming out of the ears or nose.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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