Don't take concussions lightly

special to the Herald-LeaderSeptember 1, 2013 

dan, ukhealth

As far back as the 4th Century B.C., Hippocrates said "no head injury is too trivial to ignore." This still holds true today.

A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury that causes a decline in functioning. Concussions are commonly caused by one or more blows to the head. Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to lose consciousness to have a concussion.

In adults, concussions often occur due to car accidents or falls. In children or young adults, it's often athletes who suffer a concussion during play or practice.

Concussions can occur in team sports including football, soccer, hockey, basketball, baseball and cheerleading to name a few. Many solo athletes such as gymnasts, figure skaters, skiers and cyclists are also at risk.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that an estimated 1.7 million traumatic brain injuries occur each year. Of these, approximately 75 percent are concussions, with sports-related injuries account for about 300,000 of those cases. In addition, sports concussions are the second-leading cause of traumatic brain injuries after motor vehicle accidents for people ages 15-24.

Concussions can cause physical, mental and emotional issues. Initial symptoms include headaches, nausea, blurry and/or double vision, dizziness and balance problems.

Patients may notice a stronger sensitivity to light and noise. Patients also report symptoms including fatigue, mood changes, sleeping problems and declines in attention span and/or memory. Anyone who experiences these symptoms after a blow to the head should be evaluated by a healthcare provider immediately.

Athletes are often the most eager to "get back in the game" after an injury. However, those who have experienced a concussion should be pulled from practice or play until their physician allows them to return to the sport. An initial period of rest following injury (24-48 hours), followed by low-level exercise may be of benefit.

While most concussions resolve in 7-10 days, it is not uncommon for a patient to develop post-concussive syndrome, where the symptoms can linger for weeks, months, or even years.

In this case, the quality of daily life can be impacted. Patients experiencing post-concussive syndrome may continue to suffer from painful headaches. They may become irritable or argumentative towards others. And they may experience significant cognitive symptoms, such as a lack of concentration. Until the brain heals, these patients need a physician-guided treatment plan to help them deal with the symptoms.

The UK Multidisciplinary Concussion Program evaluates sports and car accident related head injuries. UK assess an athlete's balance, cognition and mood. We are currently conducting research to assess memory, attention, reaction time and processing speed in concussed patients to help determine when they have fully recovered from the traumtic brain injury..

Dr. Dan Han is an assistant professor of neurology and neurosurgery and the director of the UK Multidisciplinary Concussion Program.

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