What to do if you suspect you have a concussion?

If you are looking for the precise definition of concussion, you might be disappointed. There is no single definition, but experts usually define it as a sharp blow or blunt trauma to the head that disrupts the neurological functions of the brain. The disruption is typically temporary. Some brain injury experts also refer to it as a mild traumatic brain injury or an mTBI. A concussion can be the result of an innocuous fall, a car crash, sports injury or a workplace accident.

Interestingly, the head does not have to bang against a hard surface to experience mild TBI. Sometimes, heavy shaking of the upper body can also result in mTBI. Depending on the signs of external injury, the extent of internal contusions and any existing trauma to the brain, the recovery time usually varies extensively between individuals with similar injuries.

How can you diagnose a concussion?

In simple words, experts do not recommend self-diagnosis of concussions. The symptoms can vary widely between two people of the same age and build. However, whenever you are in doubt, you should visit a medical professional for help. Get concussion answers notifications and updates to learn more about the signs and symptoms of mTBI in children and adults.

You should seek medical attention immediately after you experience any or all of these symptoms –

  • Seizures
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Confusion, brain fog or feeling dazed
  • Any loss of consciousness or incoherence in speech or actions
  • Loss of memory or short periods of amnesia following the accident
  • For children, there might be external signs including swelling on the skull and abnormality in behavior.

These are severe signs of Post-Concussive Syndrome. In many cases, they go away on their own. However, you might need to consult a concussion specialist to deal with these symptoms and manage your brain injury accordingly.

Are there tests for diagnosing concussions?

When you visit the doctor, he or she might recommend a few tests depending on your age and other symptoms. Here are some of the most common tests that he or she might recommend –

  1. CT scan – a CT scan is the most basic and necessary of all imaging tests that can create a complete image of your brain and the internal injuries. You can think of it as a computerized X-ray. If there are internal edema and bleeding, your neurologist can see the signs on the scan.
  2. MRI – an MRI is a sophisticated tool that provides a detailed picture of the brain. This process uses magnetic energy instead of radiation to create an accurate image of the internal structures and any aberrations present as a result of the injury.
  • fMRI – fMRI or functional MRI is different from the standard MRI procedure. It can measure the brain activity in real-time via the detection of changes associated with the blood flow in the organ. It can show the activation of neurons and different centers of the brain in accordance with the cerebral blood flow.
  1. Neurological Tests – these are a suite of tests that the doctor performs in the ER. Neurological Tests can assess motor functions and sensory skills immediately after a person presents with PCS symptoms. The doctor evaluates the patient's speech, hearing, vision, coordination, and balance along with changes in behavior, emotional and mental status during this test.

Sometimes, MRIs and CT scans do not yield conclusive results even when a person has a concussion.

Why is concussion more than a physical injury?

Over the years, neurologists and neurosurgeons have observed that concussions are not always results of physiological injuries. Sometimes, massive blows to the head or sudden jolts can cause significant psychological trauma that can lead to concussion symptoms. Since these tests cannot detect or diagnose psychological trauma or emotional upheavals, it might be impossible to conclude if a person has a concussion if his or her brain does not have visible signs.

According to Chinese medicine, existing emotional trauma can facilitate concussions. When two people experience similar accidents the one who is emotionally vulnerable has higher chances of encountering a mild TBI than the other. Research on NFL players shows that most players who have reported signs of PCS were either stressed or anxious immediately before the incident that leads to the injury.

Why is complete rest and isolation NOT good for concussion patients?

Western medicine is yet to come up with a cure for a concussion. Most doctors recommend complete bed rest, healthy diets and time off from work. Some of them recommend spending time alone to relieve the patient from emotional upheavals resulting from human interactions. However, the analysis of mental health of the patients shows that those who opt for bed rest, often recover more slowly than those who go back to work after the initial physical discomfort subsides. Chinese medicine emphasizes keeping the mind active and the body healthy immediately after a concussion episode.

Complete isolation and spending time in darkness to avoid light sensitivity might not be excellent for the mental health of the patient. Research shows, patients can develop anxiety and depression by spending time alone after a mild TBI. As a result, concussion experts recommend daily activities, healthy exercising, balanced nutrition and regular evaluation of mental health for the concussion patients. It is true that resting helps the body heal but resigning to the bed with no access to work or social life can be detrimental for the psychological health of the individual.

When in doubt, seek medical care

While treating brain trauma, it is essential to pay attention to the psychological health and behavioral traits of the affected individual. Concussions are stealthy. They don't always leave marks on the skull or the brain. The period between the injury and treatment is critical since it can determine the prognosis of the trauma. Family and friends can help in the management of the pain, discomfort and emotional turmoil a person goes through as a result of the concussion. Thus, it is imperative to get professional help when you think you may have a concussion.