Much of what we hear in the news about concussion revolves around young athletes or professional football players. But concussions caused by common everyday activities send many adult non-athletes to the emergency room too. Missing a step on a staircase, falling off a ladder doing a home improvement project and car accidents are among the leading causes.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 2.5 million Americans visited the emergency room for traumatic brain injury (TBI)-related conditions, including concussion. That number increased 70 percent between 2001 and 2010.
Falls account for the largest percentage of TBI, especially among young children and adults over 65. Assaults, falls and motor vehicle accidents are the next largest mechanisms of TBI, according to the CDC.
"Concussions are essentially a form of TBI. At the core of the injury is neuronal cell damage, or cell death," says Dr. Vikram Udani, a neurological surgeon affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital. "And unfortunately, the brain is not able to repair or replace neurons on its own."
The skull provides protection for the brain. A layer of spinal fluid surrounds and cushions it, and keeps the brain from banging into the skull. But a severe blow, jolt or other trauma can shake the brain causing it to crash into the skull, resulting in a concussion. Mild concussions are not usually life-threatening, but the effects can be serious. Repeated concussions can be extremely dangerous.
"Repeat concussions can lead to cognitive impairment, including difficulty concentrating, memory loss and even personality changes. Generally, isolated concussions don't cause permanent brain damage," says Dr. Udani.
"Repeated blows to the head, however, like those seen in professional football players, can lead to permanent brain damage and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The changes resemble those seen in Alzheimer's patients and the symptoms between Alzheimer's and CTE can be very similar. However, Alzheimer's is a disease in the elderly, whereas CTE has been seen in patients as young as in their 40s," says Dr. Udani.
One of the most common symptoms of a concussion is a headache, particularly one that gets worse over time. You should call 911 or go to an emergency room if you experience unconsciousness, convulsions, seizures or a severe headache. Other symptoms of a concussion include:
- Balance problems
- Double or blurry vision
- Sensitivity to light or noise
- Fatigue or drowsiness
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Trouble comprehending or concentrating
- Irritability, nervousness, sadness or depression
The main treatment is rest. Symptoms typically last about six to 10 days, depending on how severe the concussion is; over time, symptoms should go away as your brain heals. If not, see your doctor.
"As of today, we don't have medication or surgery to repair or replace damaged cells in the brain," says Dr. Udani. "So if you suffer a concussion, avoidance of repeated head trauma is the most important form of treatment."
For the media: To talk with Dr. Udani about concussion and traumatic brain injury, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at email@example.com.