If you think you’re being super tough by brushing off a concussion, your bravado could lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
There have been several news stories recently about athletes and concussions. But what exactly is a concussion? What happens when you experience a concussion and what are the symptoms? How serious is a concussion? If you are in the at-risk group for concussions it is important that you know the answers to these questions so you can mitigate concussion-related problems.
As one of the at-risk groups for concussions, young athletes need to be educated on the subject of concussions. The Columbus, Ohio-based Center for Injury Research and Policy (CIRP) analyzed data over a 10-year period, from 1997 to 2007, and discovered that while the total number of injuries to children was down, the number of brain traumas was up an astonishing 70 percent.
The problem has become so serious that the CDC started a program in 2005 to specifically address concussions in young athletes called “Heads Up: Concussion in High School Sports.” This program is designed to prevent long-term brain injury through education and awareness programs.
Now that there is evidence the number of concussions is growing, what do we know about concussions? Basically, a concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury. This brain injury occurs when an impact to the head (or sudden rotational movement of the head) causes the brain to strike against the inside of the skull. There are a wide range of physical symptoms that can result from this injury, including headache, dizziness, blurred vision and loss of balance. Loss of consciousness after the impact is also common.
Be aware that even if someone does not lose consciousness after a head trauma, they still may have suffered a concussion. This is why it is very important for someone who has suffered a head injury to be closely watched for 24 hours for any abnormal signs.
There are also cognitive and emotional signs of a concussion. These signs usually include confusion, difficulty concentrating and loss of orientation. Amnesia from the trauma may occur for a period of time after the injury. Diagnosis of a concussion can be made in the presence of cognitive and physical symptoms after more serious head injuries such as intracranial bleeding or herniation are ruled out.
There is no definitive treatment for a concussion other than bed rest and avoiding any activity that exacerbates symptoms. Following doctors orders, the patient will usually return to normal within a few weeks.
However, current research into concussions suggests that suffering multiple concussions, including minor blows, may lead to a condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Some of the problems associated with a CTE injury are memory loss, depression and other psychiatric disorders. Dr. Richard Senelick, a neurologist and medical director of the Rehabilitation Institute of San Antonio, recently wrote an article sounding the alarm about CTE in pro-athletes, but more importantly in school-age kids who play rough sports.
Dr. Senelick pointed out that the NFL sees the problem of concussions and CTE serious enough to offer one million dollars to Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE). He believes even more attention should be devoted to concussion research to protect the over four million American kids who play sports.
So to be on the safe-side, if you think you or someone you know have had a concussion, look for the signs, see a doctor, follow the doctor’s orders, and be aware that experiencing another concussion is something that could cause long-term damage to your brain.