What To Do If You Think You Have Had a Concussion?

BrainLine
What Should You Do If You Think You Have Had a Concussion?

What exactly is a concussion?

Although there is actually no single, accepted definition of concussion, it is commonly described as a blow or jolt to the head that disrupts the function of the brain.

Also called a mild traumatic brain injury, a concussion can result from a car crash, a sports injury, or from a seemingly innocuous fall. Concussions can also occur when the head and upper body are shaken violently. Recovery times can vary greatly.

So, how do you know if you should seek medical attention or wait and see?

The best answer: when in doubt, get prompt medical attention. Lots of people may have a headache or dizziness for a day or so and then recover fully, but a very small group of people who sustain a concussion — five percent — can develop bleeding or a blood clot that can be life-threatening if not promptly diagnosed.

Brain injuries are extremely common, but diagnosis can be complicated. Today, there is no single, objective measure that can determine if someone has had a concussion. To make a diagnosis, professionals look at many variables that might indicate trauma,  ranging from changes in balance to memory lapses and dizziness.

It’s critical to seek immediate medical attention in a hospital or emergency department if any of these symptoms are present:

  • Loss of consciousness, even if only briefly
  • Any period of amnesia, or loss of memory for the event
  • Feeling dazed or confused
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Seizure
  • In addition, for children under 2 years of age, any scalp swelling or abnormality in the way they usually behave.

And if possible, see a medical professional who has knowledge of and experience with brain injury.

Tests

Depending on your symptoms, your age, and the severity of the injury, the emergency department physicians may order some tests. Here are some of the most common:

  • Neurological test– A basic neurological exam in the ER assesses motor and sensory skills, the functioning of one or more cranial nerves, hearing and speech, vision, coordination and balance, mental status, and changes in mood or behavior, among other abilities. 
  • CT scan– A CT is a special computerized x-ray that provides images of the brain and is sometimes used to look for suspected bleeding or swelling.
  • MRI scan– A Magnetic Resonance Imaging test provides detailed pictures of the brain using magnetic energy instead of radiation.

Even though someone has had a concussion, the MRI and CT scans are often negative. That does not mean that there is no injury; it just means that the damage is not visible on the scans.

Rest

Simple though it sounds, rest is the best treatment we have today for a concussion.

If you think of the brain as an engine, it runs out of gas faster after an injury. Rest is the only way to fill up the tank again. So, the best way to recover is to rest.

Rest is important because the brain continues to heal even after all the symptoms are gone. At least initially, rest means not reading, not listening to music, not watching TV. It means no texting, no email, no cell phone. Rest means physical rest AND cognitive rest.

That said, if symptoms persist — headaches, nausea, dizziness, balance problems, confusion — after you have gotten medical care, call your healthcare provider again. Be persistent and find a healthcare provider who specializes in treating traumatic brain injury.

Prognosis

Most people who sustain a concussion or mild TBI are back to normal often in a week or two and almost always within a few months. But others can have long-term problems either from the concussion or from injury to surrounding soft tissues.

The sooner someone is diagnosed, the better the chances for a good recovery because rest is so important

One word of caution: Because a concussion affects the brain, the injured person may lack the clear judgment to make an informed decision regarding whether or not to go to the hospital. Family and friends can be instrumental in urging him or her to seek medical attention. Remember, when in doubt, check it out!

Posted on BrainLine February 26, 2018. Reviewed July 25, 2018.

About the Author

BrainLine offers authoritative information and support to anyone whose life has been affected by brain injury or PTSD: people with brain injuries, their family and friends, and the professionals who work with them.

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Comments (179)

Please remember, we are not able to give medical or legal advice. If you have medical concerns, please consult your doctor. All posted comments are the views and opinions of the poster only.

I hit my head over an hour ago because I fainted and now I feel lightheaded, dazed, and my head hurts on and off. Should I contact a doctor?

It wounds like you should. Can you get in to see your primary care doctor asap?

I hit my head while snowboarding yesterday and then took several headers in a soccer game last night. I do not have a headache but feel very tired and out of it today. My neck is also in excruciating pain, what should I do?

I’m rather amazed at these questions. “I hit my head now I feel sick to my stomach and I have a headache? Did I have a concussion?”
Yes, you probably did.

I’m going to praise the state I live in- very unusual- because they have a protocol for kids that are concussed. They don’t go back to school for a week, and when they do come back, the teachers have to give you a two-week extension on all assignments.

I asked the principal why did such a generous program come about and of course, he didn’t answer my question. What he did say was great:
"People with concussions have injured their brain. If they’re sent back to school a day or two later, they’re already behind, your anxiety level races and your immunosuppressive system goes 'Eh, I’ll take the day off.'” 

This puts more pressure on your brain, which is exactly what you don’t want, confusion, sleepiness, inability to understand what people are saying is raising your blood sugar and that, of course, includes your brain, which is encased in this lovely container. When the brain swells, at some point, it meets your skull bone and then you’re in bad shape.

I understand what’s it’s like it's live with parents who do the “ oh you’re such a big baby.” My girls were always good at sports. My littlest was playing soccer one day and we weren’t watching because our other daughters game was right next to it. Suddenly some assistant coaches came up to me to say she was down and of course I didn’t wait for details. I ran.

She was struggling to get up, her head hurt and she thought she lost a minute.  I asked the coach what he would do and he said to go. The entire trip to the hospital my husband spent yelling at me “oh she’s fine” “ we’re.not made of money “ etc. We took her to a pediatric ER. She had a concussion.

If your parents are being dorks, can you find a neighbor to take you to get checked out? Teacher? Please do this

Judy W

I hit the back of my head at play practice around 10:30 yesterday morning. Since then, I’ve had pain in my head and severe dizziness and nausea. I don’t think I hit hard, but I’m still worried. Should I see my doctor or ER?

Severe dizziness and nausea are definitely symptoms that you should see a doctor for. Please go see your doctor.

My boyfriend hit his head when falling on ice and he said he has a headache and said he was really tried should he go to sleep? and is now sleeping. Should I take him the hospital

i got hit in the head with a lacrosse ball and now i’m dizzy and tired should i go to a doctor?

So on February 4th, 2019 I got hit in the face really hard with a volleyball, my coach did a concussion protocol and I passed, but today, February 5th, 2019, I got hit again and I failed the concussion protocol, I couldn't really stand and I was dizzy and I had the worst headache so they made me sit down, about 30 mins later they did another one, and I failed again, I felt really weak and dizzy and my headache was still there. I'm at home now and I still have a headache and every now and then I will get really dizzy and tired, should I be concerned?

You should seek immediate medical attention in this case, to be safe.

I got tackled today playing football, hit head first, I feel like throwing up and kind of dizzy

go see a doctor these symptoms should be explained with medical consultation

I took a ball to the eye and am extremely drowsy and have a killer headache. Should I see a doctor?

Im not an expert but I think you should.

definitely

My wife hit her head hard last night after A couple of drinks and passed out. Doesn't really remember much of it. She has A lumpy soft spot on the side of her head. We went out today and remembers everything from today, is she going to be ok?

Need some suggestions for getting my concussed so to see someone...

It happened tonight. I was not there. Picked up from friends house. Hit deer, drove to their house. They called me. Based-on/ time & location likely knocked out for a bit. Had cut on forhead.

Refused to go to hospital. Took home. Got bleeding stopped & bandaged. Undressed no other bleeds. Eyes ok. Walking. Drinking. Swallowing. Issues talking, but coherently responding to instructions.

Not going to turn this into a physical altercation to go. Hopefully can get a group to herd into hospital tomorrow.

Past major TBI.

why would you not include that in cases people have died by falling asleep after a concussion?? its important CRUCIAL to not fall asleep if you think you may have a concussion. I know someone personally who died this way.

I was at cheer today and we were working on extensions and I fell on the back of my head and neck and all I saw was black when my head hit the ground. I've had a headact since the incident at 5:30. My dad said I'm fine and just ignores it like he does everything. Should I go to the school nurse or something ?

Yes you should. You need to go see a doctor and rest. You should also stop going to school/work for a few days and just rest.

YES!!!! Tell the nurse everything and go see a doctor!!

i just recently got hit pretty hard on my head during my soccer game about 2 hours ago. i think i am ok, but my vision was a bit blurry after about 10 minutes, and i also had nausea and a bad headache. i'm not sure if it could be from car sickness or perhaps a mild concussion. should i play in my game tomorrow or sit it out??

I've been experiencing lots of dizziness, headaches and I feel like the world is spinning for the past 24 hours. I've also been taking a lot of naps and feeling tired, but I usually don't ever take naps. Last night I fell and hit my head, could I maybe have a concussion?

I got rocked pretty hard in hockey tonight in a sort of head on collision. I’m not entirely sure where the hit came from, I’m a little foggy on that part still but it’s kind of coming back now. This was about 2 hours ago, I have a headache and one of my ears is ringing. Nothing wrong with my vision but my head does feel somewhat stuffy. Could this be a mild concussion?

Yes, go ahead and get it checked out by a doctor.

my head was hit into a wall a few times, my head hurts and i feel a bit “slow” if that makes sense. do i need to see a professional?

I have moderate to severe dizziness and head aches on and off since 2016. I was in bad car accident and had a CT done right after but didn't notice these symptoms until later on, ct came back normal however I still feel really off balance all of the sudden like falling over, bed shakes when I'm sitting still, can't think or talk straight at times. I get bad dizziness even when laying down and brightness and colors bother my eyes. I'm not sure as I've been to the doctors over and over and over and seems to only think vertigo but this was after that bad car accident mind you. What next steps should I take?

Do you know the thing that you place on your door frame and you can do pull ups with it? That fell on my head.
I’ve tried telling my dad but he’s playing it off as a joke and I don’t know what to do (I’m 13 and this happened a few hours ago I think)

Dads can be that way, they often blow things off. I suggest you tell him you're feeling sick, name your symptoms and ask he bring you to the hospital. Otherwise call 911 and tell them what happened. They should send an ambulance. You don't mess around with this kind of stuff!!! Your dad is not reacting properly like a father should. He may be a great guy, but he's not doing the right thing. . .err on the side of caution! It's your head, for heaven's sake!

I got hit with a soccer ball at school really hard and when I got home I have a headache and felt a bit tired. Is that normal or should I see a doctor?

This happened to my niece. Bad concussion. 6 months out of school, no more soccer. Don't wait.

Same general symptoms for me, but if I say anything about it my family is just going to tell me that I'm faking it and then get angry at me. I need to be 100% before I bring up my problem. I don't think its anything life threatening, and I'm only on day two with a mild headache and its sometimes hard to focus but they may just be from a lack of sleep. If anyone knows what I should do let me know. Thanks.

I have tingling in my right foot right hand and face. Doctor says give it time

Can an eye exam several days after a hit on the head determine if someone had a concussion?

I would like to read the answer

I hit the back of my head on a pool floor yesterday night. Today I have felt dizzy, lightheaded, emotional, and very tired (even though I slept for 14 hours that night). I don't want to see a doctor if it's not serious. Should I just rest at home?

I would call the doctor (or see a school nurse if you're underage.) If you develop any memory loss, see a doctor right away.

I got in a rollover collision last year on July 3, 2017, to this day I feel dizzy feel nauseous, have severe headaches, really delicate to light and sound, get irritated really quickly, forget stuff, don’t remember well. I was determined to have concussion syndrome and now my head hurts worse. Should I see a doctor? What do I say to them?

I suggest you go see a doctor because that is not normal! If technically everything irritates you then that means you probably a messed up nerve in the brain.And it is not safe for you to just ignore it.how do I know so much about this type of stuff, I watch too much Grey's anamonty.

Go see a doctor immediately. It's not normal to be having these symptoms almost a year after the incident.

YES. Go to the doctor and tell them everything you said here.

If you haven't been evaluated since the accident you should probably go. My injury was 6/6/17. I still have ringing in the ears, sensitivity to light, headaches, confusion, and have difficulty processing.

My neurologist said only 15% of concussions resolve in 3 months. Some can take up to two years to resolve.

Family Secret:
Such good information, wish I knew this then (and could do something about it....). When I was 9 years old, I fell off a bucking horse, lost my head protection before my head slammed into the ground. I remember the pain and a 'blinding flash'(?) in my brain.

I felt very sick, don't remember if I vomited. When I was taken home, I had extremely high fever for many days.
(My mother who had been present at the fall, told my father I had caught some bad virus, and was never told the truth...as I found out when I was an adult and much older).

I used to be a brilliant kid before the accident/fall...photographic memory, top of my class and happy-go-lucky. A lot of it changed including memory, retention, personality and feeling like I was in a fog much of the time.

I am here to tell you that while my life changed (think lost opportunities and maybe related health challenges overcome and to come), there is hope. Without any diagnosis, I survived..... one day (literally and dramatically), the fog lifted and while I never regained my prowess as 'super-kid', I did function for much of my life. Maybe the brain regrew new pathways?

While I do feel the irresponsibility and abuse of one parent changed my life in childhood development years, I am more concerned at the age of 65, in preparing for the remaining years. Are the current loss of my vocabulary, memory and some confusion and decline in physical abilities, a result of longer term damage to my 9 year old self, or just my aging self?

Will the CT scan/Neurological test/MRI help at this stage?

Um... you all just need to go to the doctor. If you are even asking that question because you are not feeling “right” in any way after a blow to the head. Then yes, seek medical attention. Better to err on the side of caution...

You say that, but I really can't afford to get myself checked out. They turned me away at the health desk

Several years ago I fainted and smacked the right side of my head on a brick wall and was knocked out unconscious. I was out for almost 3 hrs and woke up at the bottom of the back steps -- most likely hit my head a few times falling down the steps after I had smacked into the wall. When I came to, I was convulsing for a few minutes before the convulsions stopped. I went to doctor that morning and everything was fine -- no symptoms of a concussion but several months later I suffered from vertigo and still now several years later suffer from occasional vertigo attacks. My question is: is it normal to have convulsions when coming out of a concussion? I was completely aware of what was happening but couldn't stop the convulsions, they stopped after a few minutes.
Sometimes, the symptoms of brain injury show up months later. I hit my head in mid-October and just a few weeks ago, I started having unexplained headaches, dizziness, and nausea. I had a CT scan out of an abundance of caution and then had a neuro workup. Sure enough, I failed most of the tests; a classic example of "limbic and mid-brain" concussion that did not heal. What works 50% of the time, is Neurofeedback, but fortunately, I know about Brainwave Optimization (Brain State Technology), which is much faster and works 100% of the time. So, I am doing that next week. If I'd known I had a concussion earlier, I would have stopped drinking wine, lifting weights and working so much, and taken the time to REST. Hindsight is 20/20...but maybe I can help someone else. Get a neuro workup, even if you feel okay. And look into Brainwave Optimization.

Thank you so much for this information, because this really helped me.

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