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Nearly 3 million people are treated for concussions and other brain injuries each year in the U.S., leaving people of all ages at risk for serious medical consequences. And because many brain injuries cause internal damage with few or no external signs like cuts or lumps, many people won’t realize they have an injury until permanent damage occurs and becomes apparent days, weeks or even months later.
Concussions are a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that occurs when the brain is injured by an impact – either a direct impact that occurs when the head strikes or is struck by an object, or an indirect impact from a sudden jolt to the body that causes the head and neck to snap violently back and forth. Sports injuries, car accidents and falls are all common causes of concussions, and having prompt medical care and evaluation is critical for preventing long-term damage and even death.
What happens in a concussion?
Concussions can cause brain damage in different ways. First, there’s the physical impact-related damage that can cause the brain to “bounce” against the hard skull, resulting in bruises and bleeding in the brain’s tissues. Then, there’s nerve-related damage that occurs when nerve fibers are stretched and torn from a direct or indirect impact, releasing chemicals and triggering biochemical reactions that can take a toll on the brain at a cellular level. These latter changes can be extremely subtle, and they may not cause noticeable symptoms until weeks after the initial injury. What’s more, repeated impacts can cause a cumulative effect on the brain and on brain function, including potentially increasing the risk for Alzheimer’s disease later in life.
How are concussions diagnosed and treated?
Your assessment will begin with a review of any symptoms you may be experiencing, like headaches, nausea, dizziness, mood changes, or cognitive or memory problems, as well as a description of the accident itself. Diagnosing a concussion requires a comprehensive examination, including a physical exam, cognitive testing, neurological assessments, and possibly diagnostic imaging with MRI or CT scans to evaluate the structures of the brain.
Once a concussion is diagnosed, it is important to follow the recommendations of your doctor. You will need to avoid strenuous physical activity for several days, and you’ll also need to limit activities that require concentration or focusing, including recreational activities like using the computer, texting, reading or watching TV. This allows your brain to recover and heal. You’ll also need to take days off from work or at least work a shortened schedule. Following such stringent guidelines can be difficult, especially when there’s no “external sign” of injury like a cut or lump on the head. Still, that doesn’t mean there’s no damage, and it’s critically important to follow your doctor’s orders to ensure a complete recovery.
Learn more about concussion diagnosis and treatment.
Traumatic brain injuries are a major cause of death and disability in the U.S., accounting for about a third of all injury-related deaths, according to the CDC. Seeking prompt medical attention if you’ve had or suspect you’ve had a concussion is critical for preventing serious consequences, and those who participate in sports or other activities that involve impacts to the head or body should consider having an evaluation to assess their risks for brain injury. As an orthopedic sports medicine physician, Dr. Geoffrey Thiel along with the concussion team at OrthoIllinois are skilled in diagnosing and managing concussions in patients of all ages. In addition to providing immediate care to prevent long-term injuries from concussions, the concussion team has significant experience in helping athletes learn techniques that can help them prevent head injuries in the future. Getting care for concussive injuries is critical for your immediate and long-term health and wellness. To find out more about concussion treatment and prevention, call OrthoIllinois at 815-398-9491 and schedule a consultation with Dr. Van Thiel and the concussion team today.