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What is a concussion?
A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury caused by a blow to the head. This type of brain injury can be common in athletes who play sports, or people who participate in recreational activities. It is also possible to get a concussion from a blow to the body if it causes sudden head movement.
You cannot see a concussion, and many of them are not treated or reported to a healthcare provider. Signs and symptoms may show right away, or may not be noticed until days or weeks after the injury. A concussion can cause a variety of symptoms. Many times it doesn’t involve a loss of consciousness. Concussion in sports can happen during drills, practices and games. Injuries during practice can be just as serious as those that happen during competition.
What are some signs of a concussion?
Contact your healthcare provider if you or someone you know has any of the following signs of a concussion:
- Appears dazed
- Noticeable balance problems
- Answers questions slowly
- Frequent sleep interruptions
- Changes in mood or behavior
- Headache or “pressure” in the head
- Problems remembering or concentrating
- Sensitivity to light or noise
DIAGNOSIS & TESTS
How is a concussion diagnosed?
You should contact your healthcare provider if any of the signs or symptoms are noticeable following a head injury. If the symptoms are severe, getting worse over time, or if you have specific concerns, you should transport the injured person to an emergency room. It is particularly concerning if the person cannot be awakened, is having convulsions or seizures, or cannot recognize people or places.
The healthcare provider will want information from people who were present when the injury occurred. The healthcare provider may test strength, senses, balance, reflexes, and memory. In more serious cases, the healthcare provider may want specific medical tests completed, such as computed tomographic (CT) scans to look for more severe injuries.
What are treatment options for a concussion?
The best way to treat a concussion is to get complete rest from active physical and mental activities. Television, computers, and music should be limited, or even stopped if they worsen symptoms. You should get plenty of fluids and have general healthy behaviors, such as eating well and getting enough sleep. If symptoms become worse, or the patient experiences changes in behavior, such as anxiety, grogginess or confusion, they should immediately see a healthcare provider.
If you have a headache, you can usually take acetaminophen. If you’ve had a concussion, always contact your healthcare provider before you take any medicine.
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
- How can concussions be prevented?
- How can I let coaches and school officials know about the risks of concussions?
- Do concussions cause any permanent damage?
- Could I have a concussion without knowing it?
- When can I return to playing my sport?
- Should I call you if I have more symptoms? Should I go to the emergency room?
What are the risks when playing sports?
Increasing attention has been given to brain injuries occurring in sports. In Canada, approximately 20% of concussions result from organized sports activities. Most of these are not treated and reported in a hospital or emergency department. Concussions in sports can happen during drills, practices and games. Injuries during practice can be just as serious as those that happen during competition.
Sports which lead to the most emergency department visits for traumatic brain injury are hockey, cycling, football, rugby and soccer. Risk of concussion in sport is only slightly reduced for women versus men even though young women more often participate in non-contact sports.
When can I return to sports?
If you have any of the signs or symptoms of a concussion after a blow to the head or body, you should not go back to play the day of the injury. A health care professional, experienced in evaluating for concussions, needs to let you know when it is safe to return to play. If your concussion involves memory loss or loss of consciousness, you may not be able to return to play for several weeks. After a severe concussion, you may not be able to return to play for as long as a month. If this wasn’t your first concussion, your return to play may take even longer.
What are the risks of returning to play too early?
If an athlete returns to play before complete recovery, the athlete risks brain swelling. This can sometimes be fatal, presenting as a condition called “second impact syndrome.” A second blow to the head, even a minor one, can cause a loss of control of blood flow to the brain. Never return to a sports activity until cleared by a healthcare provider.
Can a concussion be prevented?
There’s no guaranteed way to prevent concussions. However, there are ways to minimize the risks by learning proper techniques for your sport or activity, and maintaining proper equipment.
Many sports-related organizations offer programs to help athletes, coaches and parents prevent concussions. For example, Hockey Canada has a Concussion Prevention Resource Centre to aid in education around concussions.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Brain Injury Association of Nova Scotia
Brain Injury Association of Prince Edward Island
See a list of resources used in the development of this information: