Suspect a Concussion? What You Need to Know

Learn about warning signs and how to speed up the recovery process

Contributor: Richard Figler, MD, Primary Care Sports Medicine Physician

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It is estimated that 1.6 to 3.8 million concussions occur each year across the United States. The recent increase in awareness about concussive injuries has led to an increase in the diagnoses of concussions.

A concussion is a short-lived functional brain injury typically caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head. If you have been diagnosed with a concussion, or suspect you or a loved one has a concussion, treatment should start right away, including both physical and mental rest.

The following information will help in the initial management of the injury, but does not take the place of seeing a medical professional with expertise in concussion evaluation and management.

Warning Signs of Concussion

Problems could potentially arise over the first 24 to 48 hours following the injury.  Athletes should not be left alone after a head injury, and if there is concern, medical attention should be sought out immediately. Severe symptoms may include:

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  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pupils that are enlarged or not equal in size
  • Unusual or bizarre behavior
  • Inability to recognize people or places
  • Seizures
  • Severe dizziness
  • Progressively worsening headache
  • Double or blurry vision
  • Numbness or weakness in arms or legs
  • Excessive drowsiness or fainting
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty waking from sleep

Self Treatment

The following are ways to help decrease the symptoms from a concussion and help speed up the recovery process. Over stimulation of the brain post-injury will not allow the brain to rest and recover.

Identify and avoid your triggers. Any activity that produces or increases symptoms is considered a trigger. It is important for you to know what aggravates your symptoms to speed the recovery process.  For example, if bright lights are bothering you more than they have in the past, wear sunglasses or a hat. 

Get some sleep. Our brain recovers during sleep. Sleep is even more important when recovering from a concussion. It is common to feel more exhausted with daily activities such as school or homework while recovering from a concussion. If needed, take short naps (30 to 60 minutes) when tired. Try not to take so many naps that they interfere with the ability to sleep later on at night. Minimize any distractions such as TV or phones while trying to fall asleep.

Rest your brain. The brain needs rest after a concussion. Using your brain to think hard, read, study, or try to learn new material may be very difficult and may aggravate the condition.  A concussed athlete may find it harder to process new information. When you have work or studying to do, spread it out and take frequent breaks. If you are in school, talk to your teachers about adjusting your assignments while you recover.

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Rest your body.  While recovering from a concussion the person should not do anything to increase his or her heart rate unless they have been cleared by their physician.

Be smart. Rest and recover. Returning to sports too soon after a concussion can lead to worsening symptoms and missing additional time on the court or field.

After a concussion: What NOT to do:

  • Physical activity. An increase in heart rate may worsen symptoms.
  • Strenuous mental activities such as reading, computer work, playing video games and watching TV. 
  • Driving. Do not drive for at least 24 hours after the injury. Reaction time may be slowed which can increase the risk of accidents.
  • Pain relievers. Do not take aspirin or anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen (Motrin/Advil) or naproxen (Aleve). These may increase the risk of bleeding.

Richard Figler, MD, is a primary care sports medicine physician who specializes in sports related concussions. For help with concussions, contact Cleveland Clinic’s Sports Health Center at 877.440.TEAM.