What Exactly Is a Concussion?

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Concussion Illustration

Source: Patrick J. Lynch

Every person throughout the country has likely heard of concussions, and the great majority feel confident that they understand the brain injury. However, concussions are greatly misunderstood. Anyone that refers to concussions as “getting your bell rung” or “being knocked silly” fails to accept or understand the reality of concussions, and underestimating the serious nature of the injury can be dangerous to their health.

The best way to think of a concussion is to see it as the mildest side of traumatic brain injuries. Only 10 percent of concussion patients lose consciousness, but many will have memory problems and may not recall the actual incident which created the injury.

“[A concussion] results when there is a blow to head that is enough to cause that alteration in activity of the brain cells,” Dr. Megan Adams Rieck, neuropsychologist with the HealthEast Concussion Clinic, told Aristea Brady from CBS Minnesota.

The key to the injury is understanding that the actual injury does not create the injury. Instead, it is the shaking of the brain caused by the impact which creates a brain injury. Rieck explains that, “what that does is pull on the neurons that make up the brain.”

Neurons are the cells in the brain which send messages, so when these connections are broken the brain is no longer able to function properly.

“A way that I talk about it with patients is that it’s like they’ve down shifted, so the car’s still driving forward, but they’re not able to drive as fast and it takes a lot more effort,” Rieck said.

The injury causes the brain to have to work harder in order to perform even the most basic functions, which causes victims to suffer from confusion, nausea, sleepiness, irritability, and depression.

The most important takeaway is that even the most “mild” concussion is a brain injury, and should be treated with the seriousness that any brain injury receives. They become exponentially more serious the more concussions a person receives, so ignoring the injury can be incredibly risky.

But, the good news is most concussions heal quickly. Symptoms are likely to fade within a week, as your brain heals. If the symptoms last longer than a week, chances are you may have received a more serious traumatic brain injury.

If you suffer a concussion or traumatic brain injury, it is imperative you are checked out by a doctor, and that you do not return to heavy work or athletic activities until cleared by a doctor.

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