Spotting the Symptoms of a Concussion

There are immediate signs that a concussion has occurred, as well as a number of common symptoms that may start immediately or appear gradually over time.

Spotting the Symptoms of a Concussion

The signs and symptoms of concussion can reveal themselves in many ways, ranging from the obvious to the
subtle. There are immediate signs that a concussion has occurred, as well as a number of common symptoms that may start immediately or appear gradually over time. It’s important to understand the signs and symptoms of concussion and to seek proper treatment from a trained concussion expert when an injury occurs.

What are the Immediate Signs that a Concussion has occurred?

  • Loss of consciousness – Although less than 10% of individuals experiencing a concussion will lose consciousness, this is an important sign. Any loss of consciousness, even for several seconds, must be taken very seriously.
  • Disorientation or confusion – Any change in mental status indicates that an injury has occurred and that the athlete should be removed from play immediately.
  • Vomiting – Although some individuals experience vomiting several days after sustaining a concussion, vomiting immediately after the injury is a red flag that an injury has occurred.
  • Amnesia – Some individuals experience memory loss for the moments leading up to the injury or the moments immediately after the injury. In some cases, memory loss may extend to include hours and even days prior to or after the injury.

What are the Common Symptoms of a Concussion?

  • Headache/feeling of pressure in the head – Headache is the most common symptom experienced. When a concussion occurs, the brain moves inside the skull in an unnatural way. Think of how an egg yolk moves within its shell. This causes a series of metabolic events that may lead to discomfort or pain.
  • Migraine – In some cases, migraine headaches occur as well. Migraine symptoms include headache with nausea or sensitivity to light or noise.
  • Cognitive difficulties – Concussions can impact one’s ability to think or concentrate, resulting in a decreased ability to process thoughts and directions. This may lead to difficulty learning new information.
  • Dizziness/motion sensitivity – When the vestibular system is affected, the result can be difficulties adjusting to space and motion, including a feeling of being carsick. Vestibular dysfunction may affect balance, equilibrium, and coordination as well.
  • Fogginess – Perhaps the most difficult symptom to define, the feeling of fogginess often leads one to feel one step behind themselves, or detached. Fogginess may increase when in busy environments, such as grocery stores or school cafeterias.
  • Nausea or vomiting – While vomiting immediately after the injury may be a sign of a more serious neurological injury, many people experience nausea and vomiting in the days, and sometimes weeks, following a concussion. Sometimes this is related to vestibular dysfunction, but can also be associated with migraine.
  • Fatigue or feeling lethargic – Many people feel fatigued, particularly toward the end of a long day, when recovering from concussion. While taking naps may seem like a good idea, the best way to combat fatigue is to keep a regulated sleep schedule and to obtain quality sleep at night.
  • Changes in mood – Feelings of depression, anxiety and irritability are common. Although most individuals will begin to feel more like themselves as the injury heals, some people may need specific treatments such as psychotherapy or medications to help regulate their emotions.

There are many combinations of symptoms that may occur. Every person will experience different symptoms, in varying combinations, and to different degrees. Though clinical evaluations are able to help pinpoint the degree of injury, listening to how your body feels and the progress of your symptoms can help concussion experts provide you with the best course of treatment for your specific injury.