A blow or jolt to the head can disrupt the normal function of the brain. Doctors often call this type of brain injury a “concussion” or a “closed head injury.” Doctors may describe these injuries as “mild” because concussions are usually not life threatening. Even so, the effects of a concussion can be serious.
After a concussion, some people lose consciousness or are “knocked out” for a short time, but not always — you can have a brain injury without losing consciousness. Some people are simply dazed or confused. Sometimes whiplash can cause a concussion.
Because the brain is very complex, every brain injury is different. Some symptoms may appear right away, while others may not show up for days or weeks after the concussion. Sometimes the injury makes it hard for people to recognize or to admit that they are having problems.
The signs of concussion can be subtle. Early on, problems may be missed by patients, family members, and doctors. People may look fine even though they’re acting or feeling differently.
Because all brain injuries are different, so is recovery. Most people with mild injuries recover fully, but it can take time. Some symptoms can last for days, weeks, or longer.
In general, recovery is slower in older persons. Also, persons who have had a concussion in the past may find that it takes longer to recover from their current injury.
This brochure explains what can happen after a concussion, how to get better, and where to go for more information and help when needed.
People with a concussion need to be seen by a doctor. Most people with concussions are treated in an emergency department or a doctor’s office. Some people must stay in the hospital overnight for further treatment.
Sometimes the doctors may do a CT scan of the brain or do other tests to help diagnose your injuries. Even if the brain injury doesn’t show up on these tests, you may still have a concussion.
Your doctor will send you home with important instructions to follow. For example, your doctor may ask someone to wake you up every few hours during the first night and day after your injury.
Be sure to carefully follow all your doctor’s instructions. If you are already taking any medicines — prescription, over-the-counter, or “natural remedies” — or if you are drinking alcohol or taking illicit drugs, tell your doctor. Also, talk with your doctor if you are taking “blood thinners” (anticoagulant drugs) or aspirin, because these drugs may increase your chances of complications. If it’s all right with your doctor, you may take acetaminophen (for example, Tylenol®* or Panadol®*) for headache or neck pain.
In rare cases, along with a concussion, a dangerous blood clot may form on the brain and crowd the brain against the skull. Contact your doctor or emergency department right away if, after a blow or jolt to the head, you have any of these danger signs:
Danger Signs - Children:
Take your child to the emergency department right away if the child has received a blow or jolt to the head and:
Although you should contact your child’s doctor if your child vomits more than once or twice, vomiting is more common in younger children and is less likely to be an urgent sign of danger than it is in an adult.
“I just don’t feel like myself.”
Here are some of the symptoms of a concussion:
Although children can have the same symptoms of brain injury as adults, it is harder for young children to let others know how they are feeling. Call your child’s doctor if your child seems to be getting worse or if you notice any of the following:
Older adults with a brain injury may have a higher risk of serious complications such as a blood clot on the brain. Headaches that get worse or an increase in confusion are signs of this complication. If these signs occur, see a doctor right away.
"Sometimes the best thing you can do is just rest and then try again later.”
How fast people recover from brain injury varies from person to person. Although most people have a good recovery, how quickly they improve depends on many factors. These factors include how severe their concussion was, what part of the brain was injured, their age, and how healthy they were before the concussion.
Rest is very important after a concussion because it helps the brain to heal. You’ll need to be patient because healing takes time. Return to your daily activities, such as work or school, at your own pace. As the days go by, you can expect to gradually feel better.
If you already had a medical problem at the time of your concussion, it may take longer for you to recover from your brain injury. Anxiety and depression may also make it harder to adjust to the symptoms of brain injury.
While you are healing, you should be very careful to avoid doing anything that could cause a blow or jolt to your head. On rare occasions, receiving another concussion before a brain injury has healed can be fatal. Even after your brain injury has healed, you should protect yourself from having another concussion. People who have had repeated brain injuries, such as boxers or football players, may have serious problems later in life. These problems include difficulty with concentration and memory and sometimes with physical coordination.
Tips for Healing - Adults:
Tips of Healing - Children:
Parents and caretakers of children who have had a concussion can help them heal by:
“It was the first time in my life that I couldn’t depend on myself.”
There are many people who can help you and your family as you recover from your brain injury. You don’t have to do it alone. Show this brochure to your doctor or health care provider and talk with them about your concerns. Ask your doctor whether you need specialized treatment and about the availability of rehabilitation programs. Your doctor may be able to help you find a health care provider who has special training in the treatment of concussion. Early treatment of symptoms by professionals who specialize in brain injury may speed recovery. Your doctor may refer you to a neurologist, neuropsychologist, neurosurgeon, or specialist in rehabilitation.
Help for Families and Caregivers:
“My husband used to be so calm. But after his injury, he started to explode over the littlest things. He didn’t even know that he had changed.”
When someone close to you has a brain injury, it can be hard to know how best to help. They may say that they are “fine” but you can tell from how they are acting that something has changed.
If you notice that your family member or friend has symptoms of brain injury that are getting worse or are not getting better, talk to them and their doctor about getting help. They may also need help if you can answer YES to any of the following questions:
You might also want to talk with people who have experienced what you are going through. The Brain Injury Association can put you in contact with people who can help.
* Reprinted with the kind permission of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Resources for Getting Help:
“I thought I was all alone, but I’m not. There are lots of people out there who understand what I’ve been through.”
Several groups help people with brain injury and their families. They provide information and put people in touch with local resources, such as support groups, rehabilitation services, and a variety of health care professionals.
Among these groups, the Brain Injury Association (BIA) has a national office that gathers scientific and educational information and works on a national level to help people with brain injury. In addition, 44 affiliated state Brain Injury Associations provide help locally.
You can reach the BIA office by calling the toll-free BIA National Help
Line at 1-800-444-6443. You can also get information through the national
BIA Website at www.biausa.org. Both the Help Line and the Website can
provide you with information about your closest state Brain Injury Association.
More information about brain injury is available through the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Website at www.cdc.gov/ncipc/tbi.
For More Information:
BIA National Help Line: 1-800-444-6443
BIA Website: www.biausa.org
CDC Website: www.cdc.gov/ncipc/tbi
State Brain Injury Association
Preventing Brain Injury
Brain injuries are caused by a bump or blow to the head. These injuries sometimes are called "concussions" or "traumatic brain injuries" (TBIs) and can range from mild to severe.
Most mild brain injuries cause no harm. But sometimes even mild brain injuries can cause serious, long-lasting problems. The best way to protect yourself and your family from brain injuries is to prevent them from happening in the first place.
Here are some tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Brain Injury Association of America to reduce the chances that you or your family members will have a brain injury.
Avoid falls in the home by:
Make sure the surface on your child's playground is made of shock-absorbing material, such as hardwood, mulch, and sand.
Keep firearms stored unloaded in a locked cabinet or safe. Store bullets in a separate secured location.
When to Call the Doctor: Signs and Symptoms of Brain Injury:
When you visit the doctor, here are some important questions to ask:
Here is a list of common symptoms of a brain injury (concussion). If you or a family member has a head injury and you notice any of the symptoms on the list, call your doctor right away. Describe the injury and symptoms, and ask if you should make an appointment to see your own doctor or another specialist.
For More Information:
Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
National Bicycle Safety Network (NBSN)
Reprinted with the kind permission of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
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