The neurologists at Torrance Memorial Medical Center offer expert care for concussions and related symptoms. Our affiliation with the neurology team at Cedars-Sinai — which is ranked among the best hospitals in the nation for neurology care by U.S. News & World Report — means that our patients have access to the most advanced treatment options.

What is a concussion?

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that occurs when a bump, blow, or jolt to your head or body causes your brain to suddenly and forcefully slam against the inside of your skull. This movement can damage your brain and prevent it from functioning normally.

Although concussions are considered to be mild brain injuries and are usually not life-threatening, they can cause serious symptoms that can last for days, weeks, or months.

Symptoms

Symptoms of a concussion usually fall into four categories and may include:

Problems with thinking or remembering, such as:

  • Confusion
  • Feeling “slowed down” or “foggy”
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Problems with memory
  • Trouble recalling events before or after your injury

Physical problems, such as:

  • Headache
  • Blurry, fuzzy, or double vision
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of balance
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Feeling sluggish, drowsy, or groggy
  • Ringing in your ears

Emotional or mood problems, such as:

  • Irritability
  • Sadness
  • Increased emotions
  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Personality or behavior changes
  • Sleep problems, such as:
  • Sleeping more than usual

  • Sleeping less than usual

  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep

Some symptoms of a concussion may appear immediately after your injury, but other symptoms can show up days, weeks, or months later. You should see your doctor if you develop symptoms of a concussion within a few days or weeks of a head injury. If you have already been diagnosed with a concussion, you should tell your doctor about any changes in your symptoms or new symptoms that develop over time.

In rare cases, concussions can cause serious symptoms that need immediate medical attention. You should visit your hospital emergency department if you have concussion “danger signs,” including:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Extreme confusion, restlessness, or agitation
  • Repeated vomiting or nausea
  • Weakness, numbness, or decreased coordination
  • A severe headache that gets worse or doesn’t go away
  • Unusual behaviors
  • Inability to recognize people or places

Causes and Risk Factors

Any blow, bump, or jolt to the head — or blow to the body that causes your head to jerk forcefully — can cause a concussion. Concussions can happen as a result of falls, vehicle accidents, and sports injuries.

Athletes who play contact sports, as well as young children or older adults who may be more likely to fall, may be at a higher risk for a concussion. If you have had a previous concussion, you may be at a higher risk of having another concussion in the future.

Diagnosis

To diagnose a concussion, your doctor will review your medical history, evaluate your symptoms, and ask questions about how the injury occurred. Your doctor also may perform exams or order tests, including:

  • Neurological exams. Neurological exams will differ depending on your age, but older children and adults will be asked to answer questions and complete simple tasks to test movement, muscle condition, the function of each of the senses, and general neurological well-being.

  • Cognitive tests. Cognitive tests assess your memory and concentration.

  • Brain imaging tests. If you have severe concussion symptoms, your doctor may order imaging tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans to check for serious injuries or complications.

Treatment

Concussions are usually treated with physical and mental rest. Depending on your specific symptoms and condition, your doctor may tell you to avoid physical and mental activities including:

  • Exercise
  • Participation in sports
  • Vigorous movements
  • Watching TV or playing video games
  • Reading
  • Using electronic devices, such as a computer or tablet

During your recovery, your doctor may recommend that you take time off of school or work, take extra breaks to rest, or reduce your workload. You will also need to monitor how you feel and pay close attention to how your activities affect your concussion symptoms. You should report changes in your symptoms or any new symptoms to your doctor.

Your doctor will monitor your recovery and will let you know when it is safe to return to your normal activities, including sports. Returning to sports before you are fully recovered could put you at risk for another concussion or a more serious brain injury, so it is important to wait for your doctor’s approval.