CARE Concussion Centre


What you need to know about ConcussionsCare for Concussions

What is a Concussion?

A concussion is a type of brain injury that can have devastating and long term consequences if not addressed in a proper manner. A concussion results when a person’s brain is shifted or twisted forcefully within the skull, leading to a disruption of communication between the neurons (brain cells) that can lead to alteration in brain function.

Concussions typically occur due to some direct blow to the head, but they can also occur from a blow to the body where the head is shaken forcefully and therefore violently moving the brain inside the skull. You do not have to lose consciousness to get a concussion. Most concussions occur without the person losing consciousness, but can still lead to adverse effects such as headaches, dizziness, balance issues and poor memory or concentration problems.

Concussions are a common injury, particularly with people who play contact sports such as football and hockey, but can also occur in sports such as soccer and gymnastics. Every concussion is unique and may present with a myriad of signs and symptoms, thus the importance of getting the proper diagnosis.

Concussion Signs and Symptoms?

Signs and Symptoms of a concussion can be varied and typically involves cognitive impairments, physical signs, emotional issues and sleep disturbances. Every concussion is different, and a person may report one or more of the following signs and symptoms listed below.

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Visual Problems
  • Light Sensitivity
  • Noise Sensitivity
  • Poor Concentration
  • Memory Problems
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble Sleeping
  • Irritability

These signs and symptoms usually show up right after the injury, but sometimes they may not show up for hours or even days later. It is therefore important for someone to continue to check for signs of a concussion hours to days after a person has sustained a head injury.

Concussion Red Flags?

There are certain “Red Flags” that should be watched for that may indicate a more severe type of head injury has evolved. If ANY of the following signs and symptoms listed below shows up. Please call 911 or go the Emergency Department right away. 

  • One pupil larger than the other
  • Headache that gets really bad and does not go away
  • Repeated vomiting or nausea
  • Slurred speech
  • Convulsions or repeated seizures
  • Weakness, numbness, or balance problems
  • Drowsiness or can’t be awaken from sleep
  • Difficulty recognizing people or places
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Unusual behaviour

What is Post-Concussion Syndrome?

Post-concussion syndrome is a condition where the signs and symptoms of a concussion last longer than the normal healing phase and can persist for weeks to months. The most common post-concussion signs and symptoms are headaches, dizziness, concentration problems, generalized fatigue and insomnia, although there may be others as well. It is important to seek the appropriate medical attention if the signs and symptoms of a concussion persist for more than a few weeks.

Potential Complications of a Concussion?

We have to remember that a concussion is a type of brain injury. Although it is a mild form of brain injury and most (around 80%) will resolve within days, there are some potential life threatening and long term consequences if someone returns to play too soon or if a person receives repeated concussions throughout a lifetime.

The most dangerous and life threatening event that can follow an concussion is a condition called second impact syndrome. Second impact syndrome occurs when a person experiences a second concussive blow before a prior concussion has fully healed. It can cause a rapid and uncontrolled brain swelling that may lead to death or permanent brain damage. Although it is very rare, it demonstrates the importance of proper healing before return to play for any person who has received a concussion.

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE is a chronic progressive neurological deterioration that is attributed to repeated minor head trauma such as from boxing or football. The cumulative effects of subconcussive hits (shaking the brain without signs or symptoms) may lead to long-term neurological degenerative changes. The symptoms of CTE will present initially with issues in attention, concentration and memory, often accompanied with headaches and dizziness. As the disease progresses, irritability, dementia, slowing of muscular movements, vertigo and deafness can evolve.

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