Top of the page
A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury that is caused by a blow to the head or body, a fall, or another injury that jars or shakes the brain inside the skull. Although there may be cuts or bruises on the head or face, there may be no other visible signs of a brain injury.
You don't have to pass out (lose consciousness) to have a concussion. Most people will have obvious symptoms of a concussion, such as passing out or forgetting what happened right before the injury. But other people won't. With rest, most people fully recover from a concussion. Most people recover within a few hours. Some people take a few weeks or months to recover.
It's important to know that after a concussion the brain is more sensitive to damage. So while you are recovering, be sure to avoid activities that might injure you again.
In rare cases, concussions cause more serious problems. Repeated concussions or a severe concussion may lead to long-lasting problems with movement, learning, or speaking. Because of the small chance of serious problems, it is important to contact a doctor if you or someone you know has symptoms of a concussion.
Your brain is a soft organ that is surrounded by fluid and protected by your hard skull. Normally, the fluid around your brain acts like a cushion that keeps your brain from banging into your skull. But if your head or your body is hit hard, your brain can crash into your skull and be injured.
There are many ways to get a concussion. Some common ways include fights, falls, playground injuries, car crashes, and bike crashes. Concussions can also happen when you take part in any sport or activity such as football, boxing, hockey, soccer, skiing, or snowboarding.
It is not always easy to know if someone has a concussion. You don't have to pass out (lose consciousness) to have a concussion.
Symptoms of a concussion range from mild to severe and can last for hours, days, weeks, or even months. If you notice any symptoms of a concussion, contact your doctor.
Symptoms of a concussion fit into four main categories:
Young children can have the same symptoms of a concussion as older children and adults. But sometimes it can be hard to tell if a small child has a concussion. Young children may also have symptoms like:
Concussions in older adults can also be dangerous. This is because concussions in older adults are often missed. If you are caring for an older adult who has had a fall, check him or her for symptoms of a concussion. Signs of a serious problem include a headache that gets worse or increasing confusion or both. See a doctor right away if you notice these signs. If you are caring for an older adult who takes a blood thinner and who has had a fall, take him or her to a doctor right away, even if you don't see any symptoms of a concussion.
Sometimes days or weeks after a concussion you may still feel as if you are not functioning as well as you did before the injury. This is called post-concussive syndrome. New symptoms may develop, or you may continue to be bothered by symptoms from the injury, such as:
If you have symptoms of post-concussive syndrome, call your doctor.
Any person who may have had a concussion needs to see a doctor. If a doctor thinks that you have a concussion, he or she will ask questions about the injury. Your doctor may ask you questions that test your ability to pay attention and your learning and memory. Your doctor may also try to find out how quickly you can solve problems. He or she may also show you objects and then hide them and ask you to recall what they are. Then the doctor will check your strength, balance, coordination, reflexes, and sensation.
Usually doctors will not order imaging tests such as a CT scan or an MRI unless there are signs of a severe injury, like a skull fracture or brain bleed. This is because damage to the brain from a concussion can't be seen in these tests. And imaging tests have other risks from sedation or exposure to radiation.
After being seen by a doctor, some people have to stay in the hospital to be watched. Others can go home safely. If you go home, follow your doctor's instructions. He or she will tell you if you need someone to watch you closely for the next 24 hours or longer.
Call 911 or seek emergency care right away if you are watching a person after a concussion and the person has:
Warning signs in children are the same as those listed above for adults. Take your child to the emergency department if he or she has any of the warnings signs listed above or:
In the days or weeks after
Recovery from a concussion takes time. Most people feel better within 1 to 3 months. How soon or long it takes to feel better varies from person to person. But some things may slow down your or your child's recovery. These may include:
Stressful things at home, school, or with friends may also increase the time it takes to feel better.
Rest is the best way to recover from a concussion. You need to rest the body and brain. Most experts agree that physical and mental rest for 1 to 2 days after the injury is best. Pay close attention to symptoms as you or your child gradually returns to a regular routine. Avoid any activity that makes symptoms worse or causes new symptoms.
Here are some tips to help you or your child get better.
Talk to your doctor before you take or give your child over-the-counter medicines like Tylenol, Advil or Aleve.
Concussion and school
After a concussion, you or your child may need to take time off from school. Follow your doctor's instructions on how to gradually return to your normal activities.
These tips for parents may help.
Concussion and sports
A person who might have a concussion needs to immediately stop any kind of activity or sport. Being active again too soon increases the person's risk of having a more serious brain injury. Doctors and concussion specialists suggest steps to follow for returning to sports after a concussion. Use these steps as a guide. In most places, your doctor must give you written permission for children and teens to begin the steps and return to sports.
In some cases, you and your doctor may need to discuss the benefits and risks of continuing to play contact sports. There are many things that may affect this decision. For example:
This may not be an easy conversation or decision to make. But it's important to think about your or your child's goals for the future and what role sports play.
Reduce your chances of getting a concussion:
Wear a helmet for any activity that can cause a fall or impact to the head or neck. Examples include bike riding, football, baseball, hockey, ATV riding, skateboarding, skiing, snowboarding, inline skating, and horseback riding. Helmets help protect your skull from injury. But brain damage can occur even when a helmet is worn.
Reduce your child's chances of getting a concussion:
Other Works ConsultedAmerican College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2008). Clinical policy: Neuroimaging and decisionmaking in adult mild traumatic brain injury in the acute setting. Annals of Emergency Medicine, 52(6): 714–748.American College of Sports Medicine (2006). Concussion (mild traumatic brain injury) and the team physician: A consensus statement. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 39(2): 395–399.Giza CC, et al. (2013). Summary of evidence-based guideline update: Evaluation and management of concussion in sports: Report of the Guideline Development Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology. Neurology, 80(24): 2250–2257. Also available online: http://www.neurology.org/content/80/24/2250.full.Halstead ME, et al. (2010). Sport-related concussion in children and adolescents. Pediatrics, 126(3): 597–615.Halstead ME, et al. (2013). Returning to learning following a concussion. Pediatrics,132(5): 948–957.McCrory P, et al. (2013). Consensus statement on concussion in sport: The 4th International Conference on Concussion in Sport held in Zurich, November 2012. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 47(5): 250–258. Also available online: http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/47/5/250.full.Meehan WP, Bachur RG (2009). Sport-related concussion. Pediatrics, 123(1): 114–123.Smith BW (2010). Head injuries. In SJ Anderson, SS Harris, eds., Care of the Young Athlete, 2nd. ed., pp. 185–191. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.
Adaptation Date: 10/8/2019
Adapted By: Alberta Health Services
Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2019 Healthwise, Incorporated. All rights reserved. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.