Though football has been a favorite American pastime for almost a century, the sport has faced much scrutiny over player concussions in recent years. In 2013, there were 228 diagnosed concussions during practices and games in the NFL, while from 2005 to 2012, the rate of concussions in high school athletes in the U.S. doubled.
In all sports combined, an estimated 200,000 people in the U.S. suffer a concussion each year. Whether you have a student athlete or participate in sports yourself, it’s important to be informed about the symptoms of a concussion and what to do if you or someone else has one.
First, it’s important to know how to identify a concussion. A concussion occurs when high impact causes the brain to quickly move back and forth. Concussions can often be difficult to identify, as the symptoms aren’t always obvious. Some people will lose consciousness during a concussion, although it’s not unusual to remain conscious throughout.
Concussion symptoms typically appear immediately, although they can be delayed for several days. The physical symptoms of a concussion include drowsiness, headache, nausea and vomiting, changes in sleep patterns and difficulty speaking and communicating. Cognitive symptoms include memory loss, irritability, confusion, depression problems and balance problems.
If you suspect you or a loved one has suffered a concussion, it’s crucial to visit a doctor immediately for an evaluation. Typically, a doctor will ask several questions about the injury and how it occurred. It’s important to fully disclose if the patient had previous concussions. A doctor will usually give the patient a neurological exam to test for balance, coordination, vision, hearing and reflexes.
If a concussion is diagnosed, a doctor will almost always order a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or computed tomography (CT) scan to fully examine the brain. As long as there is no bleeding in the brain, the doctor will usually prescribe rest. Mental engagement is discouraged, and patients are asked to limit reading, computer work, video games and television.
The symptoms of a concussion usually subside within seven to 10 days, although some patients may continue to experience symptoms for months. Physical and mental activity can return once symptoms have disappeared completely. By gradually returning to your daily activities and monitoring symptoms, you can fully return to normal life. However, concussion victims are more likely to experience additional concussions, which can have long-lasting consequences, so it’s important to be cautious in the future.