A concussion/mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI) causes changes in the chemistry of the brain. The brain normally maintains a delicate balance between the chemicals that control our behaviors and reactions.
The brain is surrounded in the skull by fluid. This protects the chemical balance from being altered by trauma to the brain. With a jolt or blow to the head, the brain is bounced around and may make contact with the hard skull. This "bouncing around" can cause an alteration in the chemicals or neurotransmitters (chemicals that are used to relay messages to other cells). These chemical changes cause the symptoms after a concussion.
One of the reasons concussions are so dangerous is a condition called Second Impact Syndrome. If a person sustains a second concussion before completely recovering from the first, the results can be deadly.
Causes of a concussion
Concussions can happen to anyone, and a blow or jolt to the head is a common cause. Studies have shown the most common ways a person receives a blow or jolt to the head include:
|Motor vehicle accidents||20%|
|Recreation or sports||19%|
|Road traffic accidents||7%|
|Work site injuries||6%|
|Secondary to medical conditions||3%|
|Other (head vs. object)||8%|
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Heads UpThe CDC's Heads Up initiative provides important information on preventing, recognizing, and responding to a concussion.
Go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web site for more information for athletes, parents and coaches.
Immediate signs and symptoms of the chemical changes that point to a concussion may include:
- Amnesia – especially to details before and/or after the event
- Poor balance
- Unequal pupil size
- Slurred speech
- Sensitivity to light and noise
- Loss of consciousness
These symptoms may occur at the time of injury and for a short time afterward and may only last an hour or two. Symptoms may also last five to 10 days and new ones may appear in this time frame.
What should a person with symptoms of concussion do?
If a person experiences a jolt or blow to the head that causes a "dazed" feeling, he or she should stop whatever they are doing and recognize they have injured their brain. Too many times, those with concussion symptoms try to "shake it off" or push on through the symptoms. This may cause further damage to the brain and can also lengthen recovery time. Rest and monitoring is needed.
While most injuries do not require extensive medical treatment and the symptoms will lessen and go away, monitoring is needed in case symptoms should worsen and require a doctor's attention. A person with worsening symptoms should be evaluated immediately by a doctor or be taken to an emergency room. If in doubt, check it out!