What is concussion?

The brain is encased in a hard structure called the skull, the function of which is to provide protection for the delicate structure of the brain underneath. If the skull is subjected to a sudden fall or blow, no apparent damage may be caused to the skull itself. However, the most worrying aspect is what happens underneath. What may have happened as a direct result of that fall or blow is that the brain may have been jolted or banged against the inside of the skull. This type of injury is what we call concussion. Headache and difficulty with concentration are the commonest symptoms of the condition.

The 'jelly-like' brain is shaken inside the rigid skull.

How will I recognise it?

It can be quite difficult to recognise concussion because there is usually no obvious exterior injury (other than perhaps a bump or bruise on the head). The best rule of thumb is to summon medical help after a blow to the head if any of the following symptoms are present:

  • if the patient loses consciousness, even for a short period of time.
  • if they vomit repeatedly.
  • if they take any sort of fit.
  • if they regain consciousness, and then suddenly become very drowsy and hard to converse with.
  • if the condition of the patient rapidly deteriorates after a period of improvement.
  • if the patient complains of severe headache.

How should the patient be treated?

Anyone, either adult or child, who has suffered a severe bang or blow to the head should be kept under observation by a responsible adult for up to 24 hours. If in doubt about the significance of any symptoms seek medical assistance. It is best to err on the side of being over cautious in the case of head injury.

How should a concussed patient recuperate?

Most of the symptoms of concussion will disappear within a few weeks. Some people suffer recurrent headache for several months after the event and may need considerable reassurance. In the immediate aftermath of the event the person should be encouraged to rest and to avoid physical stress and strain for a few days.

Will there be permanent brain damage?

Generally, the younger the patient who suffers a concussion, the better their chances of achieving a complete recovery. In cases where the concussion has been particularly severe, or if the patient does not take sufficient rest to enable the brain injury to heal, there is a small risk that the symptoms may remain for months or may even become permanent.

There is known to be a risk of epilepsy after concussion and this risk is particularly high among people who are engaged in boxing, where they may suffer from repeated concussions.

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