Common signs and symptoms of a concussion


In this article: 

  • Learn the common signs and symptoms of a concussion, including physical, cognitive, emotional and sleep disturbances.

  • There are three different grades, or severity levels, of a concussion, which can determine what kind of treatment you need.

  • Treatment typically involves brain rest, although it could also include rehabilitation if you have a severe concussion.

Common concussion symptoms

Concussions can happen on the field or court, at home, in the car — really, anywhere. While you or your child may feel like you should just push through it, it’s incredibly important to rest and, if needed, seek proper treatment so that you don’t get permanent brain damage.

What is a concussion?

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury, also known as a TBI, caused by trauma to the head or body. This can occur as the result of a bump, blow, jolt, or a tackle in contact sports that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth. “Many people don’t realize that they can get a concussion with bodily injury, and not just head injury,” says Michael Marvi, M.D., a neurologist at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, California. “You should be aware of the signs and symptoms so that you can recognize it right away.”

Common causes of concussions

While concussion is frequently linked to sports injuries, there are many other ways you can get traumatic brain injury that have nothing to do with athletics. These include:

  • Motor vehicle accidents – A car accident can cause a severe jolt to the head or body, which may lead to a long recovery.
  • Playground accidents – Children could knock their head or body against a piece of playground equipment or experience a significant fall.
  • Bike crashes – Cyclists who are not wearing helmets are especially at risk for a concussion if they crash.

Key signs of a concussion

Do you know how to tell if you or someone else has a concussion? Looking for these signs and common symptoms after a traumatic event or blow to the head can help you determine if you need medical help. If you’re not treated, there can be long-term consequences, such as headaches, loss of memory and fatigue that can go on for years. Untreated concussions can also lead to lowered levels of mental alertness and an inability to focus.

Physical symptoms

Physical symptoms of a concussion include dizziness, nausea, sensitivity to light and noise, imbalance, or blurry vision.

Cognitive symptoms

Cognitive symptoms of a concussion include having difficulty concentrating or having memory problems, feeling much slower mentally than you did before the concussion, and feeling mentally foggy.

Emotional symptoms

A concussion can cause you to feel more emotional than usual and experience increased sadness, nervousness, irritability or personality changes.

Sleep disturbances

You could have difficulties falling asleep or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, find yourself sleeping much more than normal.

Recognizing the severity: Mild vs. severe concussions

There are three different kinds of concussions, each requiring different levels of care:

  • Grade 1 – can cause headache, dizziness memory loss and nausea. You can usually return to normal activities within a few days after the symptoms have passed.
  • Grade 2 – symptoms are similar to a Grade 1 concussion, but you could briefly lose consciousness. You may need many days of rest before returning to regular activities.
  • Grade 3 – when you lose consciousness for more than five minutes. You can experience amnesia, speech problems, vomiting and seeing stars, and may be at risk for permanent brain damage — especially if you experience repeated concussions.

When to seek immediate medical attention

In general, whenever you or someone you love suffers a traumatic brain injury, it’s always a good idea to get checked out no matter what. But you should head straight to an emergency room if you experience the following symptoms:

  • Any loss of consciousness
  • Seizure
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Any period of amnesia
  • Feeling dazed or confused

For young children under 2, seek help if they have any scalp swelling or differences in the way they usually behave.

“When in doubt, go to the hospital,” says Dr. Marvi. “It will certainly give you peace of mind, and it could prevent permanent brain injury.”

The importance of medical evaluation and diagnosis

One of the most dangerous aspects of concussions is their hidden nature. While a person could insist they’re feeling fine, there could be significant damage under the surface. A health care professional can run a series of tests and evaluations, such as a computed tomography or CT scan, to determine the brain function and extent of the injury. They can also rule out more serious injuries, which could require additional treatment.

The treatment and recovery process

For mild concussions and mild TBIs, treatment mainly involves “brain rest.” Limit visual and physical activities to shortened time intervals, and keep screen time to a minimum. Ask your health care provider about taking pain medication such as acetaminophen (Tylenol). Don’t take ibuprofen (Advil), because that may increase your risk of bleeding.

If symptoms don’t get much better after several days of rest, you may need to undergo rehabilitation for symptoms related to vision, balance problems or thinking and memory. Your doctor can give you medical advice about the best treatment for your recovery.

Concussions are serious brain injuries, which is why they need to be taken seriously.

Contributing caregiver

Michael Marvi, M.D., is a neurologist at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, California.

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.

About the Author

Neuroscience is super complex, and the Providence Brain & Spine Team taps into the many decades of expertise to provide useful and helpful advice and tips on non-surgical and surgical options to treat any disease of the mind.

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