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:
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)