There has been a lot of coverage in the media about concussions and post-concussion syndromes. A concussion, also known as a mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI), is an injury to the brain caused by a blow or a jolt to the head, face or neck. Generally, concussions do not leave individuals with permanent impairment and symptoms usually resolve within days to weeks.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms can vary and last for minutes, hours or weeks. Since they may not be immediately apparent, it is important to be aware of possible physical, cognitive and emotional changes. Some common symptoms that may occur include: headache, dizziness, sensitivity to light or noise, depression, anxiety, difficulties with concentration and memory, fatigue/lethargy and nausea or vomiting.
When to see a doctor
You should see your doctor or an emergency room physician if you experience a head injury severe enough to cause confusion or amnesia, even if you never lost consciousness. They are the only ones who can rule out a more serious problem. Your doctor will determine if you need additional testing, but no single test can prove a person has a concussion. Testing may include a CT or MRI scan to see if there is any injury to the brain.
Standardized assessment tools are also important in evaluating and monitoring a person’s recovery. Sports medicine physicians will use a questionnaire such as the Sports Concussion Assessment Tool (SCAT) for this purpose.
The recovery course for a concussion is normally gradual. Most concussion symptoms go away on their own within weeks or months following an injury. You should not see a worsening of symptoms with time. Most individuals just need support and reassurance that time and rest is often the best therapy. In addition, education about concussions and the symptoms can ease their fears and provide peace of mind.
Treatment is aimed at decreasing specific symptoms the individual is experiencing, including refraining from doing activities that aggravate the symptoms, until these activities can be gradually reintroduced. For example, an individual with complaints of headaches, difficulties with word search, memory problems and sensitivity to light should avoid all stimuli to the brain by avoiding watching television, using computers and all electronic devices and resting in a dimly lit room or wearing sunglasses.
Concussion symptoms lasting longer than three months are very unusual. If the person is experiencing new symptoms, worsening symptoms or increasing depression or anxiety after a concussion, additional investigation and treatment may be considered.