About Concussion

A blow or jolt to the head can disrupt the normal function of the brain. Doctors often call this type of brain injury a "concussion" or a "closed head injury." 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. Some people are simply dazed or confused. Sometimes whiplash can cause a concussion.

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 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 brochure explains what can happen after a concussion, how to get better, and where to go for more information and help when needed.

Medical Help

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.

*Use of trade names is for identification only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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:

1. Headaches that get worse
2. Weakness, numbness, or decreased coordination
3. Repeated vomiting

The people checking on you should take you to an emergency department right away if you:

1. Cannot be awakened
2. Have one pupil - the black part in the middle of the eye - larger than the other
3. Have convulsions or seizures
4. Have slurred speech
5. 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:

1. Has any of the danger signs for adults
2. Won't stop crying
3. Can't be consoled
4. 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.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


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