Over the past few years, concussions have become a hot topic in professional sports. As a result of this interest, the amount of scientific research and knowledge has recently grown substantially. We now understand concussions in much more detail and thus are able to better treat patients.
It is important to recognize that it is not only athletes that sustain concussions. Everyone is at risk. I recently had a professional truck driver come into my clinic complaining of headaches and dizziness. During the medical history it was revealed that he had fallen off his trailer two days prior and hit his head on the asphalt. After performing a physical examination, I was certain that he was exhibiting symptoms that are common with a concussion. Other recent cases that come to mind include a five-year-old child who fell off a trampoline and a junior hockey player who was hit from behind. As you can see, anyone can sustain a concussion injury, however people who participate in contact sports such as football are at a higher risk.
In order to understand concussions, you must first understand the anatomy of the brain. Basically, your brain is a mass of gelatin-like substances that floats in fluid within your skull. This structure allows the brain to be cushioned from everyday forces or trauma that it may encounter. However, violent blows to your skull or neck may cause the brain to strike the inside of your skull, causing injury.
In simple terms, a concussion is a traumatic brain injury that changes the way your brain functions. In most cases, these changes in brain function are temporary and usually resolve on their own. There are many different possible symptoms associated with concussions. However, headaches, dizziness, amnesia and confusion are the most commonly experienced.
Other possible symptoms include confusion, nausea, fatigue, slurred speech and personality changes. Symptoms may occur immediately or have a delayed onset.
Although most concussion injuries do not required medical treatment, it is important to consult with a health-care professional to be on the safe side. You should seek emergency care if you experience a head injury as well as a loss of consciousness lasting more than one minute, seizures, repeated vomiting and/or your symptoms worsen over time.
After completing a detailed history and physical examination, if your doctor suspects that you have sustained a concussion, they may recommend further imaging tests such as CT and MRI in order to better evaluate the injury.
In most cases, no significant medical intervention is required. By far, the best treatment for a concussion is rest – both physical and mental. This means avoiding strenuous physical activities as well as mentally taxing activities such as reading, watching TV and playing video games. Your doctor may recommend acetaminophen (Tylenol) to help reduce pain and headaches.
Although it is impossible to completely prevent the occurrence of concussions, using common sense will help to minimize your risk. General safety guidelines such as wearing proper protective equipment during sports, recreational activities and work is probably the best prevention strategy you can employ. A good example of this is wearing non-slip shoes or work boots to prevent slips and falls. To add to this, protective head gear such as helmets significantly reduces the risk of injury.
Keep these simple tips in mind and you will be well on your way to preventing concussion injuries. Until next month, drive safely.
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