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When to Worry About Head Injuries

Julie was leaving her home office when she tripped on a power cord and tumbled head first into a wall. While she was embarrassed by her clumsiness, she was even more concerned about the symptoms she began having after the fall and whether they were signs of a concussion.

Don’t Ignore These Symptoms

A concussion is an injury to the brain that interferes with how it functions. During a concussion, the force placed on the skull causes the brain to bounce or twist inside of the skull. This movement of the brain can stretch and damage brain tissue. Symptoms may appear right away or days after the injury.

You should contact your doctor right away if you have the following symptoms after an injury or bump to the head:

  • Worsening headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Difficulty moving
  • Weakness and numbness
  • Difficulty speaking

You should be taken to the emergency room if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty staying awake
  • Seizures
  • Memory problems
  • Confusion
  • One pupil that is larger than the other
  • Unusual behavior
  • Loss of consciousness

Avoid Long-Term Damage

In most cases, a concussion can be treated with initial rest until a doctor gives the okay for you to gradually return to work, sports, and other activities. The brain is more vulnerable to injuries while it is healing. A second head injury during this time period can lead to more severe or long-term damage. If any of the concussion symptoms return, you should seek follow-up treatment right away. If any of the concussion symptoms return, you should seek follow-up treatment right away.

Prevention Tips

Since concussions are often the result of an accident like Julie’s, they can be difficult to prevent. To decrease the chances of a concussion:

  • Use proper safety precautions to prevent falls, such as removing trip hazards.
  • Always use seatbelts, shoulder harnesses, and child safety seats when traveling in vehicles.
  • Learn about the air bags in your car. Young children should not be placed in front of air bags.
  • Wear a helmet when participating in high risk activities, such as:
    • Riding a bike or motorcycle
    • Playing a contact sport, such as football, soccer, or hockey
    • Using skates, scooters, and skateboards
    • Catching, batting, or running bases in baseball or softball
    • Skiing or snowboarding

Julie’s concussion was diagnosed early. She followed her doctor’s advice for recovery based on the severity of her symptoms and she was back to work in her home office in a matter of days. However, this time she took steps to remove all trip hazards.

RESOURCES:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
http://www.cdc.gov

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
http://www.familydoctor.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Health Canada
https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada.html

Public Health Agency of Canada
http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca

REFERENCES:

Concussion. American Association of Neurological Surgeons website. Available at: http://www.aans.org/patient%20information/conditions%20and%20treatments/concussion.aspx. Updated September 2000. Accessed April 10, 2017.

Concussion and mild traumatic brain injury. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116529/Concussion-and-mild-traumatic-brain-injury. Updated March 28, 2017. Accessed April 10, 2017.

Traumatic Brain Injury & Concussion. Signs and symptoms. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/symptoms.html. Updated March 22, 2017. Accessed April 10, 2017.

Last reviewed August 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP