Concussions are a hot topic in the news today, primarily because of their relationship to sports. Unfortunately, concussions are a common occurrence in sports. It has been reported that there are approximately 300,000 concussions each year among high school, college and professional football players. Soccer players too, have significant rates of injury from concussion. Falls, auto accidents and biking accidents also account for many concussions.

In layman’s terms, a concussion is an injury to the brain that causes a temporary loss of normal brain function. The formal medical definition of concussion is: a clinical syndrome characterized by immediate and transient alteration in brain function, including alteration of mental status and level of consciousness, resulting from mechanical force or trauma.

Typically, a concussion is caused by an impact to the head. Although there may be outward signs of injury to the head, it is not at all unusual for there to be no sign of trauma. A concussion may cause loss of consciousness, but in most cases, a person with a concussion never loses consciousness. Concussions often cause a loss of memory of what took place immediately before or after the injury. In addition, a concussion may affect speech, judgment, reflexes, coordination and balance.

Although some concussions are worse than others, there is no such thing as a minor concussion. Even mild concussions should not be taken lightly. Neurosurgeons and other brain injury experts emphasize that although some concussions are less serious than others, there is no such thing as a "minor concussion." In most cases a concussion will not cause permanent damage. Having said that, a second concussion soon after the first may cause significant permanent damage, even if it is initially thought not to be very significant.

Typically, a mild concussion will not result in abnormal findings in diagnostic tests such as CT scans or MRIs. The diagnosis is usually made based on the nature of the accident and the resulting symptoms. The primary symptoms indicating the presence of a concussion are the inability to perform a specific sequence of movements or tasks; the inability to maintain coherent thought; and, a lack of awareness and easy distractibility.

If any of the following symptoms are present following a head trauma, a physician should be consulted:
  • Headache
  • Visual disturbance
  • Lack of coordination
  • Lack of balance
  • Confusion
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Loss of memory
  • Ringing ears
  • Lack of concentration
  • Slurred speech
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Loss of smell or taste

Today there is no one agreed upon standard for grading the severity of a concussion, nor are there universally agreed upon guidelines for when a person is able to return to activity or play. There are a number of different standards formulated by various organizations and individuals including the American Academy of Neurology, Robert C. Cantu, M.D., the NCAA and the Colorado Medical Society.

Rest is the treatment of choice for concussion. Tylenol is often recommended for post concussion headaches, as narcotic medications have been found to often be ineffective. A conservative approach is recommended.

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James Roswold
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James Roswold is a Kansas & Missouri personal injury, workers comp, and medical malpractice attorney.