Concussion: Symptoms and treatment

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About concussion

A concussion is a type of brain injury. It often happens because of a hit to the:

  • head
  • neck or face
  • body

When you are hit on the head or body, your brain moves inside the skull. This movement can cause brain injury, such as a concussion.

A concussion causes changes in the way you think and feel. You could have a concussion even if you don’t pass out. It is always a good idea to have your doctor or health care provider check you.

It is also important to have someone observe you for a few days after you have injured yourself. Everyone experiences concussion differently and symptoms can take hours or days to develop.

Most people recover in 10 days to 4 weeks, but recovery times can vary. Children and youth typically take longer than adults to recover from a concussion.

Symptoms of a concussion

A concussion can’t be seen on routine image scans, such as an MRI, X-ray or CT scan. It is diagnosed by observing changes in the way a person thinks and feels.

Symptoms can affect:

  • the body (physical)
  • thinking
  • emotions
  • sleep
The Body Thinking Emotions Sleep
Dizzy Confused Irritable Can’t sleep
Headache Sleepy Nervous or anxious Sleeping poorly
Sick to the stomach Can’t think More emotional Sleeping too much
Pressure in the head Can’t remember Feeling foggy
Trouble with balance Tired or low energy Sad
Sensitive to light or noise
Blurry vision

Get help right away if you have these symptoms

  • neck pain
  • double vision
  • loss of consciousness
  • seizure or convulsion
  • vomiting over and over again
  • headache is severe or getting worse
  • weak, tingling or burning feeling in arms or legs

What to do if you have a concussion

If you think you have a concussion, stop what you are doing and seek medical help.

If you think your child or teenager might have a concussion:

  • make them stop what they are doing
  • stay with them
  • get them to a doctor as soon as possible

If the person is unconscious, call 911. Do not:

  • move the person
  • remove any equipment, like a helmet or padding, in case of an injury to the spine

Treating a concussion

If you have a concussion, your doctor will monitor your symptoms and tell you when you can return to activities. Your doctor may also ask for support from other health professionals like a:

  • neurologist
  • physiotherapist
  • occupational therapist

Usually, symptoms will go away in 1 to 4 weeks. If you or your child has had a concussion before, or there are other health factors, recovery may take longer.

Gender differences

Research shows that females and males with a concussion have different symptoms. Their recovery is also different.

Knowing these differences will help health care providers improve prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

Video: Applying GBA+ to Concussion Prevention and Treatment

Concussion training

In Canada, only doctors and nurse practitioners can medically assess patients with a head injury. Assessments include:

  • conducting a clinical history and physical examination
  • ordering diagnostic tests as needed
  • referring to medical sub-specialists

There are exceptions, however.

  • Quebec: nurse practitioners cannot make a clinical diagnosis of concussion
  • Manitoba: physician assistants are licensed to conduct medical assessments

Learn more about medical assessment and who should diagnose a concussion in Canada.

There is a concussion awareness credit course for health care providers.

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