Back by popular demand: With the approach of football season, we thought it helpful to remind readers of the sport’s potential hazards with this column first published in November 2013.
What is a concussion?
A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury. Concussions are the most common type of traumatic brain injury.
Why should I care?
Concussions are becoming more and more common in contact physical athletics involving all ages, children to adult professionals. A recent government report estimates that over four million sports-related concussions occur in the United States annually.
Concussions are also the most common type of traumatic brain injury seen in persons over the age of 65 secondary to falls. Concussions are also commonly seen after motor vehicle accidents. Concussions can have profound mental health implications.
What causes concussions?
A concussion is the result of a violent blow to the head. The brain is slammed against the skull and injured. One of the things that make concussions difficult to diagnose is that the brain has no pain receptors, so often the signs and symptoms of a concussion will come on minutes to hours after the concussion. Additionally, one does not have to lose consciousness to get a concussion.
How is a concussion diagnosed?
Any type of injury to the head should be evaluated by a physician. At that time the physician may perform a physical examination and order special imaging studies such as CT Scans and MRI evaluations.
Some of the signs and symptoms of a concussion are:
- A severe constant headache
- Personality changes and increased irritability
- Interference with sleep
- Mood changes and or depressed feelings
- Strange sensations of taste and smell
- Concentration difficulties
- Memory difficulties
If you have a head injury, it is important to see a physician for evaluation immediately. Some of the warning signs to get medical help immediately are:
- Severe headache
- Loss of consciousness
- Difficulty walking
- Difficulty thinking and/or remembering
- Recurrent vomiting
How are concussions prevented?
It is very important to wear the proper athletic protective equipment. Always wear a seatbelt. Also, it is important to reduce the impediments and risks for falls at home.
How are concussions treated?
The prime treatment for concussion is rest. The time needed to recover from a concussion involves many factors including age, medical conditions, medications being taken, and number of previous concussions.
With every subsequent concussion, the ability to recover becomes less and less likely, and studies have indicated that repeated concussions can cause long-term cognitive, memory and mental function changes. Generally speaking, the rest period for the first concussion is approximately two weeks. During this time it is important to get plenty of sleep, and also to limit or eliminate periods requiring intense or deep concentration, thinking, or intense physical activity.
Sometimes recurrent headaches can last several weeks to months. All post-concussion recovery programs should be supervised by a physician. Most people recover completely from concussions.
Any head injury, even if the person does not lose consciousness, should be evaluated by a physician.
Always wear a seat belt.
Make sure your environment is safe and remove risks for falls.
Always wear the appropriate protective head gear in athletics.
Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board certified dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also has a private practice in Eagan, MN. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the United States by Black Enterprise magazine and one of the top 21 African American physicians in the U.S. by the Atlanta Post. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of the Minnesota Association of Black Physicians, MABP.org.