Concussions: Facts and Myths You Need to Know

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If you are an athlete, have ever been an athlete, or have a child who is an athlete, you’re probably at least marginally aware of the meaning of concussion. A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) typically caused by a blow to the head or a sudden movement of the head caused by an unexpected external force to the body.

As researchers learn more about the brain, they learn more about the causes and effects of a concussion. A research paper published in the December 2017 issue of the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology concluded that individuals who suffer repetitive concussions (for example, football players who frequently suffer blows to the head) may experience a “lifelong degenerative process” affecting memory, learning, and coordination. That conclusion challenges the previous belief that the effects of concussions go away after a period of time.

The Silent Epidemic

Often, people who have a concussion don’t seek medical attention simply because the initial symptoms are so subtle they don’t realize anything is wrong. Especially in light of the new evidence suggesting that repeated concussions may have lifelong consequences, it’s very important for those who have suffered a concussion to be properly diagnosed. Among other things, a person who knows he or she has had one concussion can take preventive actions to safeguard against future concussions. The most common symptoms of a concussion include:

  • A persistent or severe headache
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty with balance
  • Memory loss or mental confusion
  • Feeling disoriented
  • Feeling unusually sleepy   
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Irritability
  • Mild depression
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Ringing in the ears

Concussion Myths and Truths

While most people are marginally aware that a concussion involves a blow to the head, there are many common misperceptions surrounding this condition.

Myth: If you didn't lose consciousness, you don't have a concussion.
Truth: You're more likely to be conscious after the impact that causes the concussion. Studies show that fewer than 10% of people who suffer a concussion lose consciousness.

Myth: You shouldn't sleep if you have a concussion.
Truth: As long as the person is able to carry on a regular conversation before they decide to go to sleep, it is safe for them to sleep. It’s perfectly fine to have someone check on the person with the concussion periodically (especially if the person is a child), to make sure they can be roused from sleep.

Myth: If your CT scan is clear, you don't have a concussion.
Truth: A CT scan picks up any bleeding or swelling in the brain but cannot pick up cellular damage that may have occurred. Your doctor will provide a diagnosis after reviewing the CT scan and completing their diagnostic testing.

Myth: You can get a concussion only from a blow to the head.
Truth: Experiencing a strong external force to the body, such as being in a vehicle that is rear-ended by another vehicle, can also cause a concussion.

Myth: You can get back to your sport or regular activity once your head feels clear again.
Truth: It can take up to two weeks for your brain injury to heal. Even if you feel fine after two weeks, you shouldn't resume your regular schedule of physical activity all at once. Ease back into it.

Myth: You need to check the pupils with a flashlight to see if they are dilated or uneven because that is a symptom of a concussion.
Truth: A brain injury that causes the pupils to dilate differently is not a concussion – it is extremely serious. Usually, changes to the pupils occur only when a person is unconscious. If an athlete is coherently speaking to you, there is no need to check his or her pupils.

When in Doubt, Check it Out

If you even remotely suspect that you or a loved one may have a concussion, err on the side of caution and seek treatment. A neurologist or neurosurgeon is trained to assess patients to determine if a mild brain injury has occurred.

To diagnose a concussion, a doctor may order a CT scan of the brain and/or other tests to evaluate a patient’s ability to concentrate, react, and solve problems. Even if physical signs of a concussion don’t show up on a CT scan or other diagnostic test, you may still have a concussion. A neurologist knows exactly what to look for and how to treat and advise patients who have a concussion.

If you are in the Greater Houston area, including The Woodlands, Spring, and Conroe and you believe that you need to be seen by a doctor for a concussion contact us to schedule an appointment with Dr. Fayaz.

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