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Diseases and Conditions
Special to CNN.com
Your brain floats within your skull surrounded by cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). One of the functions of CSF is to cushion the brain from light bounces of everyday movement. However, the fluid may not be able to absorb the force of a sudden hard blow or a quick stop.
A concussion is a temporary loss of awareness or consciousness caused by a blow to the head. Severe blows may result in bleeding in the head or permanent damage to nerves. Some concussions can have serious, lasting effects.
Most concussions are mild and most people with mild brain injuries recovery fully, but the healing process takes time. Rest is the best recovery technique.
Signs and symptoms
The signs and symptoms of a concussion can be subtle and may not appear immediately. Symptoms can last for days, weeks or longer.
Your behavior, mental ability and physical skills all are linked to specific areas of your brain. The severity and side effects of a head injury depend greatly on which area of your brain was most affected.
Immediate signs and symptoms of a concussion may include:
Delayed signs and symptoms may include:
If you experience any of these signs and symptoms after suffering head trauma, see your doctor.
A violent blow to your head can cause your brain to slide forcefully against the inner wall of your skull. This can result in bleeding in or around your brain and the tearing of nerve fibers.
A concussion causes at least a temporary loss in brain function. Although losing consciousness is a common sign of a concussion, it's possible to suffer a concussion without being completely knocked out.
More-serious injuries to the brain include:
Although many concussions result from sports injuries, they can occur whenever your head is subjected to a blow, such as in a car accident or from a fall. Some common risk factors include:
When to seek medical advice
Seek medical advice after any blow to your head in which you have the signs and symptoms of a concussion. Although symptoms may not be immediately apparent, be sure to watch closely for subsequent physical, mental and emotional changes.
In addition, tell a family member or a close friend if you have head trauma. Because memory loss may be associated with a blow to the head, some people may forget they ever hit their head until after the diagnosis and sometimes the treatment. A friend, family member or co-worker may be more likely to recognize the warning signs and arrange for prompt medical attention if he or she is aware of the situation.
Some people experience postconcussion syndrome, a condition in which the symptoms of concussion persist for weeks or months after the initial head trauma. If you have had a concussion and continue to have symptoms such as memory and concentration problems, headaches, dizziness, confusion or irritability, see your doctor.
Screening and diagnosis
Diagnosing a concussion may involve several steps. Your doctor may ask questions about the accident and may conduct a neurological exam. This exam includes checking your memory and concentration, vision, hearing, balance, coordination and reflexes. Depending on the results of the neurological exam, your doctor may request one of these tests:
If you've experienced a concussion, it's common not to remember the events right before, during and immediately after your injury. Memory of these events may never come back. After recovery, however, your ability to learn and remember new things almost always returns.
It's important to prevent a condition known as second impact syndrome. This occurs when a person has recurrent head trauma while still recovering from a concussion. A seemingly minor trauma or bumping of the head in these people can lead to devastating swelling of the brain, which could prove fatal. You're at greatest risk of second impact syndrome if you're younger than age 20.
After a concussion, always get your doctor's OK before returning to a sport. Wait until all of your neurological symptoms have completely gone away.
Rest is the best recovery technique. Healing takes time. Some over-the-counter and prescription drugs may relieve headache pain, but talk to your doctor before taking any medications, especially aspirin. Aspirin may contribute to bleeding. Don't give aspirin to children because it may lead to serious problems, such as Reye's syndrome.
The following tips may help you to prevent or minimize your risk of head injury:
The process of healing from a concussion may take time, sometimes several months. These tips may help make for a smoother recovery:
February 17, 2005