About Brain Injury
A blow or jolt to the head can disrupt the normal function of the brain. This is called a brain injury, or concussion. Doctors may describe these injuries as “mild” because concussions are usually not life threatening. Even so, the effects of a concussion can be serious.
After a concussion, some people lose consciousness or are “knocked out” for a short time, but not always — you can have a brain injury without losing consciousness.
Because the brain is very complex, every brain injury is different. Some symptoms may appear right away, while others may not show up for days or weeks after the concussion. Sometimes the injury makes it hard for people to recognize or to admit that they are having problems.
The signs of concussion can be subtle. Early on, problems may be missed by patients, family members, and doctors. People may look fine even though they’re acting or feeling differently.
Because all brain injuries are different, so is concussion recovery. Most people with mild injuries recover fully, but it can take time. Some symptoms can last for days, weeks, or longer.
In general, recovery is slower in older persons. Also, persons who have had a concussion in the past may find that it takes longer to recover from their current injury.
This article explains what can happen after a concussion, how to get better, and where to go for more information and help when needed.
People with a concussion need to be seen by a doctor. Most people with concussions are treated in an emergency department or a doctor’s office. Some people must stay in the hospital overnight for further treatment.
Sometimes the doctors may do a CT scan of the brain or do other tests to help diagnose your injuries. Even if the brain injury doesn’t show up on these tests, you may still have a concussion.
Your doctor will send you home with important instructions to follow. For example, your doctor may ask someone to wake you up every few hours during the first night and day after your injury.
Be sure to carefully follow all your doctor’s instructions. If you are already taking any medicines — prescription, over-the-counter, or “natural remedies” — or if you are drinking alcohol or taking illicit drugs, tell your doctor. Also, talk with your doctor if you are taking “blood thinners” (anticoagulant drugs) or aspirin, because these drugs may increase your chances of complications. If it’s all right with your doctor, you may take acetaminophen (for example, Tylenol®* or Panadol®*) for headache or neck pain.
Danger Signs — Adults
In rare cases, along with a concussion, a dangerous blood clot may form on the brain and crowd the brain against the skull. Contact your doctor or emergency department right away if, after a blow or jolt to the head, you have any of these danger signs:
- Headaches that get worse
- Weakness, numbness, or decreased coordination
- Repeated vomiting
The people checking on you should take you to an emergency department right away if you:
- Cannot be awakened
- Have one pupil — the black part in the middle of the eye — larger than the other
- Have convulsions or seizures
- Have slurred speech
- Are getting more and more confused, restless, or agitated
Danger Signs — Children
Take your child to the emergency department right away if the child has received a blow or jolt to the head and:
- Has any of the danger signs for adults
- Won’t stop crying
- Can’t be consoled
- Won’t nurse or eat Although you should contact your child’s doctor if your child vomits more than once or twice, vomiting is more common in younger children and is less likely to be an urgent sign of danger than it is in an adult.
Symptoms of Brain Injury
Persons of All Ages
“I just don’t feel like myself.”
The type of brain injury called a concussion has many symptoms. These symptoms are usually temporary, but may last for days, weeks, or even longer. Generally, if you feel that “something is not quite right,” or if you’re “feeling foggy,” you should talk with your doctor.
Here are some of the symptoms of a concussion:
- Low-grade headaches that won’t go away
- Having more trouble than usual:
- Remembering things
- Paying attention or concentrating
- Organizing daily tasks
- Making decisions and solving problems
- Slowness in thinking, acting, speaking, or reading
- Getting lost or easily confused
- Neck pain
- Feeling tired all the time, lack of energy
- Change in sleeping pattern:
- Sleeping for much longer periods of time than before
- Trouble sleeping or insomnia
- Loss of balance, feeling light-headed or dizzy
- Increased sensitivity to:
- Blurred vision or eyes that tire easily
- Loss of sense of taste or smell
- Ringing in the ears
- Change in sexual drive
- Mood changes:
- Feeling sad, anxious, or listless
- Becoming easily irritated or angry for little or no reason
- Lack of motivation
Although children can have the same symptoms of brain injury as adults, it is harder for young children to let others know how they are feeling. Call your child’s doctor if your child seems to be getting worse or if you notice any of the following:
- Listlessness, tiring easily
- Irritability, crankiness
- Change in eating or sleeping patterns
- Change in the way they play
- Change in the way they perform or act at school
- Lack of interest in favorite toys
- Loss of new skills, such as toilet training
- Loss of balance, unsteady walking
From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. www.cdc.gov.
*Use of trade names is for identification only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.