Can concussions cause long term problems or even kill you?


Q: I’ve been hearing a lot about football players getting concussions lately. Is it true that concussions can cause lasting effects and even kill you?

Short A: Yep

Long A: “Concussion” is a traumatic brain injury which causes a temporary loss of neurologic function with or without loss of consciousness. These are common in contact sports like football and hockey, but also occur in soccer, skiing, baseball, and rugby. Signs and symptoms of concussion include: 

  • Confusion
  • Amnesia and disorientation
  • Visual disturbance
  • Dizziness and balance problems
  • Mood changes
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Fatigue
  • Headache

Some symptoms-headache and amnesia-occur within minutes of the injury and may continue for some time after. Other symptoms-anxiety, depression, confusion, sleep disturbance, even seizures-might not show up until days or weeks after the injury. You should be examined by a doctor if you sustain a head injury which results in a loss of consciousness and/or experience any of the above symptoms.

Most people with a single, mild concussion will recover fully without noticeable side effects. However, one concussion makes it easier to get a second, even with a less forceful injury. This is why doctors usually make your favorite star athletes sit out a few weeks after a head injury. The brain needs time to heal before it is put at risk. “Second impact syndrome,” a potentially fatal swelling of the brain, can occur if a second injury occurs too soon after the first.

It’s clear that severe traumatic brain injury can cause permanent neurologic deficits. Surprisingly, it appears that multiple small concussions can cause cumulative neurologic and cognitive deficits as well. There is an association with multiple “knock outs” and Alzheimer’s disease in boxers.

General treatments for concussion include rest and over-the-counter pain medication. Drink lots of water and abstain from alcohol. You should not return to contact sports until you are completely recovered, which is at least a week for a mild concussion. More severe concussions might mean sitting out a season, or even changing sports.

Of course, the best treatment is prevention. Wear a helmet. Protect your head. 

Adam Brandeberry, Med IV (Ohio State College of Medicine)

Victoria Rentel, MD (Ohio State Student Health Services)

8 thoughts on “Can concussions cause long term problems or even kill you?

  1. My husband has had probably 8 concussions in this life between the ages of 14 and 50. He saw a neurologist who told him he’d have to be on antidepressants for the rest of his life and told him not to drink alcohol. He still drinks, even if it’s one beer, 9 out 10 days at least. It’s usually much more than that. Why did the dr tell him not to drink? What are the consequences of his drinking?
    Thanks for the help!

    • If your sister has been checked out by a doctor who confirmed she did not have a concussion, then she should be OK.

      Bumping your head is one thing, everyone bumps something once in a while. You get a bruise, it turns interesting colors, and you move on. But if she seriously hit her head hard, has a large welt, lost consciousness, felt dizzy afterwards, any of these and did not go to the doctor – then really a trip to the doctor is in order just to make sure everything is OK.

  2. I had a confusion about a year ago and didn’t know it until recently. A few months after the head injury I started getting very bad migraine. I’m still not able to do certain activities without my head pounding and my neck being stiff. Do es anybody know if this could be a long term affect from the concussion I had?? Please help! Thank you!

    • It’s not so much the number of head injuries, diagnosied or not, it is the severity of the injuries and how soon they occur after another. Take a moment to jot down the dates of your injuries, the symptoms that occurred, how long it took you to recover – before the headaches and the like stopped, etc. Then the next time you visit your doctor, bring the list and discuss it with them. They can then advise you on future action.

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