What Doctors Should Know About Symptoms & Dangers of Concussions

December 31, 2015
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Your brain is everything. Every feeling, every dream, every action ever taken is accomplished via the sophisticated network of neurons in the brain. Damaged or destroyed brain matter ranks among the highest of catastrophic injuries posed to humans. Without a working mind we are nothing.

Your brain is everything. Every feeling, every dream, every action ever taken is accomplished via the sophisticated network of neurons in the brain. Damaged or destroyed brain matter ranks among the highest of catastrophic injuries posed to humans. Without a working mind we are nothing.

Thus, it’s no big surprise that concussions are no laughing matter. Recent reevaluation of the risks these injuries pose to people has shown that seemingly low-risk concussions can actually be far more destructive to us than previously believed. No where is this more apparent than in athletics, where the majority of concussion-related injuries occur. Ongoing NFL concussion litigation efforts and increased scrutiny showcase the threats these injuries pose on a professional sports level. Yet concussion dangers run rampant starting in high school athletics and even earlier.

The dangers of concussions are faced by virtually anyone. While engaging in contact sports increases the chances of receiving a concussion, they can happen almost anywhere. Falling objects, vehicle collisions, and honest accidents on the street can all potentially lead to a concussion. It’s important for everyone to recognize the signs, symptoms, and dangers of brain injury:

Symptoms

Bumps on the head happen in life. Knowing when these seemingly benign injuries could be potentially worse than they appear requires an understanding of the symptoms of concussions, such as:

-Temporary loss of consciousness: More commonly referred to as both blacking out and fainting. Requires restricted bloodflow to the brain which may be a result of traumatic injury to the head. Unlike in the movies it’s something to take seriously.

-Short-term memory loss: Many sufferers of a small concussion or other brain injury appear perfectly fine at first only to appear to be stuck in a loop. Signs include repeatedly asking the same questions, especially if they’re “Where am I?” and so forth.

-Headache, nausea, and vomiting: Sudden sickness in the immediate aftermath of trauma to the head is a red flag for the individual to seek medical attention as soon as possible.

-Ringing in the ears: Otherwise known as tinnitus, ringing in the ears is a common occurrence in the immediate aftermath of a violent head injury involving loud noises such as those frequently seen in combat situations. It can also manifest as a long-term side effect of mild traumatic brain injury.

-Feeling dizzy: Dizziness in the wake of a bad head injury typically leads to sickness and vomiting if the individual attempts to carry on with life as usual. Nip it in the bud by seeking medical assistance at the onset of dizziness as opposed to waiting.

-Listlessness: If someone with a recent bump on the head seems incapable of showing emotion, or speaks as though they’re in a trance, this warrants immediate attention.

-Delayed reactions to external stimuli: Observe the behavior of someone after they’ve been hit on the head to monitor their reaction times. If they seem to lag in response to noise, movement, or questions, it’s time to get help.

Any signs of the aforementioned should result in immediate medical attention. Sometimes the symptoms of concussion-related damage can last for days or weeks, in which case monitoring by a qualified professional should be sought.

Dangers

Repeated concussions, especially with no medical attention, can contribute to a whole host of dangerous side effects over time. These effects debilitate a person’s ability to function even at the most basic levels of motor skills and communication, leading to:

-Mood swings: Researchers are seeing numerous long term sufferers of TBIs be diagnosed with psychiatric disorders, bipolar disorder chief among them.  

-Inability to concentrate: Meandering sentences, failure to successfully complete common life routines like pumping gas or buying a cup of coffee, and behavior otherwise indicating a struggle to focus should be examined with extra scrutiny if the person has a history of traumatic brain injury.

-Chronic forgetfulness: We all forget where we put the keys every once in awhile. Forgetting where we put the car – that’s usually a sign of something serious.

-Depression: Again, psychiatric disorders such as depression are increasingly noted in patients suffering from TBI. A prolonged negative outlook on the world, reduced appetite, and emotional instability of someone with a past brain injury are strong indicators of long-term consequences. You should not try to get rid of depression without the help of a professional.

-Increased sensitivity to lights and sounds: One of the most commonly reported long term side effects of traumatic brain injuries, inability to tolerate levels of light and sound deemed comfortable by everyone else is at least one of the more agonizing symptoms which can be remedied with environmental changes and medicine.

-Insomnia and other sleep disorders: Inability to get a good night’s rest could be something more serious than poor diet and immediate stress. In some cases involving sufferers of brain injury it can be a delayed result of the trauma.

Once again, the recent controversy over the National Football League’s historic denial of brain-related injuries among players has placed the dangers of concussions in a spotlight for the whole world to witness and learn from. The Peabody award-winning Frontline documentary League of Denial based on the bestselling book of the same name documents the lives of several former professional football players suffering from the long-term effects of repeated blows to the head. Individuals starting out with mental as well as physical agility slowly deteriorate to dementia-grade consciousness, with loved ones helpless to do anything about it.

The takeaway from all the litigious and scientific attention recently paid toward concussion-related sports injuries is that we’re repeatedly surprised by how seemingly little impact it takes for such long-term brain injuries to take shape. What was once considered a list of disorders only acquired by those taking hits to the head every week for years is now being noticed in individuals who took such abuse in smaller doses.

Bottom Line: everyone, those participating in contact sports especially, is at risk of long term problems associated with brain-related injury. Recognizing the symptoms and respecting the dangers are the first steps in reducing the chances of concussions taking a toll on our minds or the minds of our loved ones.