August 22, 2017
Concussion and traumatic brain injury have made headlines lately due to a recent study that found signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in the brains of an astounding 99 percent of deceased NFL players studied.
CTE is a brain disease causing a host of symptoms, such as memory loss, aggression, and depression, in people who have been exposed to repeated head trauma. But you don’t have to be a professional athlete to be at risk for serious head injury. Traumatic brain injury results in nearly three million ER visits, hospitalizations, and deaths in the US each year.
Any blow or jolt to the head has the potential to cause a concussion, which is defined as a disruption of normal brain function. A concussion is a mild form of traumatic brain injury (TBI). Concussions can occur at any age, but they are most common in the young and the elderly. Falls are the leading cause of TBI, accounting for almost half of all incidents. Car crashes account for about 15 percent of cases, while sports injuries in children made up about 11 percent of cases.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are four categories of concussion symptoms. In the first category, headache and blurry vision are often associated with irritability, muddled thinking, and sleeping too much. Nausea and dizziness usually occur along with depressed mood and trouble sleeping in the second category. The third category manifests as noise or light sensitivity and problems with balance, often seen alongside difficulty concentrating and being overly emotional. In the fourth category, lethargy may appear along with anxiety and memory problems.
Post concussion syndrome can sometimes occur after a concussion, even a mild one. The likelihood of suffering from post concussion syndrome is not related to the severity of the incident that caused the concussion. The syndrome is characterized by symptoms, such as headaches and dizziness, that persist long after the initial concussion. In some people, symptoms will continue for up to three months, while in rare cases, they can last for a year or more.
Perhaps the most commonly heard folk wisdom about concussions is that you should never, ever let someone fall asleep if you think they’ve had a concussion. But is that really true? According to Laurel Rudolph, a sports medicine physician and expert on concussions, the injured brain actually needs the rest and recovery associated with sleep. As long as the person is able to hold a conversation and isn’t exhibiting symptoms such as dilated pupils, it’s probably safe to let him or her go to sleep. However, if the person falls asleep and can’t be awakened, seek immediate medical help. Good ol’ R&R should not replace medical care. If you suspect someone has suffered a concussion, it’s important to have them evaluated by a medical professional as soon as possible.
A concussion diagnosis has several components. Your physician will discuss the incident and your symptoms with you, then perform a neurological exam, checking your vision, hearing, coordination and balance, and reflexes. A cognitive test, which will evaluate things like memory and recall, may be performed. In severe cases, the physician may order imaging tests such as a cranial computerized tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and you may have to be hospitalized overnight for observation.
If you suspect someone who has suffered a blow or jolt to the head may have a concussion, it’s important to get them medical attention. Traumatic brain injury can be fatal, and it results in about 50,000 deaths annually.