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April 11, 2024

Concussions happen every day—and not just on the playing field. Regardless of what age you are, lifestyle you lead, or activities you participate in, the risk of concussion is simply a reality. But is that trip down the stairs or tumble off your bike worth a trip to the ER? Maybe. Let’s have a discussion about concussion.

But first, if you suspect that you or someone you know has a concussion, seek medical attention right away. Walk in or schedule an appointment at your nearest GuideWell Emergency Doctors location.

What is a concussion?

A concussion [from the Latin word concutere, meaning to shake violently] is a common, less serious type of head injury or traumatic brain injury (TBI).1 Given that concussions are often a ‘less traumatic’ form of TBI, a concussion may also be referred to as “mild TBI” in the medical community.

What can cause a concussion?

Concussions are most often caused by a sudden, direct blow or bump to the head due to a fall. A concussion may also result from rapid acceleration-deceleration of the head [commonly called whiplash]. Blast injuries resulting in shaking inside the skull cause concussions, too. This risk of concussion is common in military combat.

Concussions are inherent in sports, particularly competitive team sports like football, hockey, rugby, and soccer. Those suffering from a concussion may experience headaches as well as concentration, memory, balance, and coordination issues. Such side effects are usually temporary. The good news is that most people fully recover from a concussion.

Know the signs and symptoms of a concussion

While the terms “signs” and “symptoms” are often used interchangeably, from a medical standpoint, they’re not the same thing. Symptoms reflect how the patient reports or describes their condition to a doctor; whereas signs describe what a doctor observes during their medical exam/diagnosis of the patient.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], the symptoms and signs of a concussion can be summarized as follows:2

Concussion symptoms reported [by patient] Concussion signs observed [by doctor]
Headache or head “pressure” Inability to recall events prior to or after a hit or fall
Nausea or vomiting Dazed or stunned appearance
Balance problems, dizzines, or double/blurry vision Forgetfulness [such as being unsure of the game, score, or opponent in the case of a sports-injury concussion]
Light or noise sensitivity Clumsiness
Feeling sluggish, hazy, foggy, or groggy Slow to answer questions
Confusion, or concentration/memory problems Loss of consciousness [even brief]
Feeling "off," "down," or "just not right" Mood, behavior, or personality changes

Three types or “grades” of concussion3

Concussions are often categorized into three grades, depending on their level of seriousness or severity:

Grade 1 Concussion

  • Transient [short term] confusion
  • No loss of consciousness 
  • Symptoms resolving in less than 15 minutes

Grade 2 Concussion

  • Transient [short term] confusion
  • No loss of consciousness 
  • Symptoms lasting longer than 15 minutes

Grade 3 Concussion

  • Any loss of consciousness

When/how soon after an injury do concussions occur?

For the most part, symptoms and signs of a concussion appear soon after the injury. 

What’s important to note is that concussion symptoms and signs can change over time. Keep in mind, it might be hours—or even days—for concussion symptoms and signs to appear. 

For example, in the first few minutes following a concussion, a person might be a little dazed. An hour later, they might not even remember what happened and how they got hurt. That’s why when it comes to a concussion or potential concussion, you need to make sure to monitor the situation quite closely. 

Who’s at risk for concussion?

Whether due to age, lifestyle, or medical history, some people are more prone to concussions than others. 

Those more at risk of concussion include:4

  • Older people [fall risk]
  • Children age 4 and under [fall risk]
  • Adolescents [activity risk]
  • Military personnel [explosive exposure]
  • Anyone involved in a car accident [whiplash]
  • Victims of physical abuse
  • Anyone who’s already had a concussion

Interesting to note that adolescents are at higher risk of concussion than any other age group—with sports and cycling accidents being the main cause. Researchers add the fact that young brains are still developing, making young people more vulnerable to a concussion than average adults.

Ways to watch for a concussion

A potential head injury is nothing to take lightly. That’s why it’s so important to watch for the warning signs of a concussion after a slip, fall, or head bump. By following the advice of medical experts, you can identify potential warning symptoms and signs of a concussion and seek immediate medical help if need be.

Symptoms/Signs to look for if you suspect a concussion:5

  • Blurred or double vision
  • Confusion
  • Headache or dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Light sensitivity
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Trouble focusing
  • Balance problems

When to head to the doctor in case of concussion

Not every bump on the head requires medical attention. Think it might be a concussion? Even a mild concussion should be checked out by a doctor (Walk in or schedule an appointment at your nearest GuideWell Emergency Doctors location).

Following a fall, tumble, or tackle, you’ll want to observe the situation closely and get immediate medical help in the case of:

  • A headache that worsens or doesn’t go away 
  • Slurred speech, weakness, numbness, or decreased coordination
  • Significant nausea or vomiting
  • Confusion, agitation, or restlessness
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness, drowsiness, or inability to wake
  • Worsening symptoms 
  • Symptoms have not gone away after 10–14 days
  • A history of multiple concussions

Generally speaking, most people with a concussion [or mild TBI] feel better within a couple of weeks. For others, symptoms could be experienced for months or longer.

Post-concussive syndrome refers to when issues from a concussion linger after the expected recovery period. Such symptoms can include:

  • Trouble concentrating
  • Memory lapses 
  • Headaches
  • Changes in personality and mood swings
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble sleeping [for weeks or months]

Definitely talk with your doctor if concussion symptoms don’t go away or worsen after you return to your regular routine/activities. What’s more, when you’re not fully recovered, it’s that much more critical to avoid activities that put you at risk for another potential concussion.

Where can you go in case of a concussion?

If it’s immediate medical attention you need—GuideWell Emergency Doctors is equipped to assess and treat all kinds of major medical conditions, including concussions. 

With Board-Certified Emergency Medicine Doctors and emergency-level onsite imaging [including CT scans], GuideWell Emergency Doctors is here to serve you in less time for less money than typical hospital ERs.

How to prevent concussion

As the saying goes, prevention is worth a pound of cure. Among the ways to prevent concussion:

  • Wear protective gear [including a helmet] during sporting activities [including cycling, snowboarding, horseback riding, etc.]
  • Always buckle your seat belt [in the back seat, too!]
  • Secure the kids with proper safety seats, booster seats, or seat belts
  • Make your home a safer zone [proper lighting, floors clear of clutter, slip-free rugs, and so on]
  • Install grab bars in the bathroom [especially for older adults in the home]
  • Don’t drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Try to stay in shape [for better strength, stability, and balance]

Given that concussions affect everyone—young and old, sporty or sedentary—it’s so important to know the risks, identify and address the warning signs, and take measures to prevent a concussion from sidelining you.


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