A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) that is caused by a blow to the head or chest, whiplash, or other violent shaking of the head and body. It can occur with or without the loss of consciousness and may lead to temporary cognitive problems.
Common Questions & Answers
What Are the Symptoms of a Concussion?
Especially early on, symptoms of a concussion may be overlooked or mistaken for less-serious health problems. Sometimes people with a concussion do not recognize the symptoms, confuse them with something else, or don’t want to admit there's something wrong. Others may not understand what is happening to their bodies and how it is affecting their day-to-day lives.
That's why it’s especially important for everyone to know the signs of a concussion and be vigilant in looking out for them, especially when someone has experienced a blow to the head.
Physical symptoms of a concussion include:
- Fuzzy or blurred vision
- Nausea or vomiting
- Sensitivity to noise or light
- Balance problems
- Feeling tired or having no energy
Cognitive symptoms of a concussion include:
- Difficulty thinking clearly
- Feeling slowed down
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty remembering new information
- Brain fog or grogginess
Emotional symptoms of a concussion include:
- Erratic emotions
- Nervousness or anxiety
Sleep symptoms of a concussion include:
- Sleeping more or less than usual
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Daytime drowsiness
Contact your doctor or local emergency department immediately if you experience any of the following danger signs after a blow, bump, or jolt to the body or head:
- A headache that gets worse and does not go away, perhaps even the worst headache of your life
- Weakness, numbness, or decreased coordination
- Repeated vomiting or nausea
- Slurred speech
If you’re caring for someone who you think might have a concussion, take them to the emergency room immediately if they:
- Look very drowsy or cannot wake up
- Have one pupil larger than the other
- Have seizures or convulsions
- Cannot recognize people or places
- Are getting more confused, restless, or agitated
- Are behaving unusually
- Lose consciousness
Danger signs in children can include all the above, as well as refusal to nurse or eat and crying that won’t stop.
What Causes a Concussion?
A concussion is caused by a blow, bump, or jolt to the head or chest, a violent shaking of the head or upper body (as in whiplash, for instance), or a penetrating injury, such as a gunshot wound.
How a Concussion Is Diagnosed
A concussion is often diagnosed in an emergency room after a fall or accident or after an incident during a sports game. A concussion can also be diagnosed later on, when a person seeks treatment following symptoms that started after the initial blow.
- Interview A doctor will document the extent of any loss of consciousness or loss of memory leading up to the event, or loss of memory of the event or after the injury, as well as any other symptoms, such as headache, feeling dazed or confused, dizziness, or fatigue.
- Examination The doctor will look for any neurological signs and symptoms by testing strength, sensation, reflexes, coordination, balance, vision, hearing, mental status, nerve functions, and other functions to determine the severity of the brain injury.
- Brain imaging Sometimes brain imaging may be recommended for patients with symptoms of severe headaches, seizures, repeated vomiting, or symptoms that continue to worsen. A cranial computerized tomography (CT) scan can determine whether the injury is severe and has caused bleeding or swelling in the brain. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can determine if the brain has undergone any changes and can help diagnose complications after a concussion. A normal CT or MRI does not rule out a concussion, though.
- Observation Some patients may need to be hospitalized overnight for observation following a concussion. It may also be possible to be observed at home. A caregiver should observe the affected person closely for at least 24 hours to make sure symptoms aren’t getting worse.
How Long Does a Concussion Last?
Most people who get a concussion will recover within a few days. But for some people symptoms can last for weeks or even longer.
How quickly someone improves depends on many factors, including the severity of the concussion, their age, how healthy they were before the injury, and how well they care for themselves after the concussion.
How a Concussion Is Treated
Most people recover completely from a concussion. The most important step in concussion recovery is getting plenty of rest, which is necessary to help the brain heal. It’s also important to avoid physically and mentally demanding activities until symptoms subside.
Possible Complications From a Concussion
Symptoms of most concussions and other mild TBIs will go away on their own within a couple of weeks. But for some people, symptoms last longer and may cause complications.
These complications can include post-concussion syndrome, which is characterized by headaches and dizziness that will not go away; post-traumatic vertigo, or dizziness that accompanies movement.
Research and Statistics: How Many People Are Affected by Concussions?
Males are two times more likely to be hospitalized and three times more likely to die from a TBI than females. Older adults age 75 or older have the highest rates of TBI-related hospitalizations and death. This age group accounts for 32 percent of all TBI-related hospitalizations and 28 percent of TBI-related deaths.
In children age 17 and younger, there were 16,480 TBI-related hospitalizations and 2,476 TBI-related deaths in 2019.
Related Conditions: Sleep Disorders and Brain Injury
It's important to talk to your doctor about any sleep problems you're experiencing with a TBI so that proper treatment can be administered. Treatment may include sleep medication, cognitive behavioral therapy, or other behavioral modifications, according to past research.
Learn More About Sleep Disorders and Brain Injury and How One Woman Deals With the Problem
Concussions in Males Versus Females
Learn More About How Concussions Are Different in Males Versus Females
Sports and Concussions
A common cause of concussion is trauma during a professional or recreational sport, including but not limited to football, soccer, and hockey.
Concussions in Children
- Loss of consciousness
- Trouble walking
- Blurred vision
- Slurred speech
- Severe headache, or a headache that gets worse
Call your doctor if your child complains of headache, dizziness, or memory problems after a hit on the head. The doctor will perform a physical exam and will test things like balance, coordination, and nerve function. A brain scan might also be performed to rule out internal bleeding.
Fast action can lead to a proper diagnosis and treatment to help your child recover. Since concussions are unique to each individual, your child’s doctor will prescribe treatment based on specific symptoms. If the concussion is not severe enough to warrant a trip to the hospital, your child’s doctor will provide instructions for home care.
Home care includes the following:
- Physical rest until symptoms subside
- Mental rest and avoidance of mentally taxing activities until symptoms subside
- Eating well and avoiding caffeine
- Avoiding bright lights or loud noises, which can make symptoms worse
Note that there is no evidence to support waking a child every few hours when they are sleeping to check for symptoms. Also, children can usually return to their normal activities within a few weeks. It’s important to wait until their doctor gives the go ahead to do so, and they and should stop what they are doing if symptoms return.
Learn More About Concussions in Children and How One Mom’s Swift Action Led to Her Daughter’s Speedy Recovery From a Concussion
Headache, dizziness, blurred vision — how well do you know the signs of a concussion? In order to receive prompt treatment and prevent complications, it’s important to be aware of the ways a concussion can occur and the symptoms that may be present.
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking
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- Viola-Saltzman M, Watson N. Traumatic Brain Injury and Sleep Disorders. Neurologic Clinics. November 30, 2012.
- Leng Y, Byers A, et al. Traumatic Brain Injury and Incidence Risk of Sleep Disorders in Nearly 200,000 Veterans. Neurology. March 30, 2021.
- Female Soccer Players Suffer the Most Concussions in High School Sports. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. March 14, 2017.
- Colantonio A, Harris J, et al. Gender Differences in Self Reported Long-Term Outcomes Following Moderate to Severe Traumatic Brain Injury. BMC Neurology. October 28, 2010.
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- McCrory P, Meeuwisse W, Dvorak J, et al. Consensus Statement on Concussion in Sport — the Fifth International Conference on Concussion in Sport Held in Berlin, October 2016. British Journal of Sports Medicine. October 2018.
- Surveillance Report of Traumatic Brain Injury-Related Hospitalizations and Deaths by Age Group, Sex, and Mechanism of Injury — United States, 2016 and 2017. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2021.