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Hamilton Health Sciences Home
July 4, 2017

Concussion: Recognize the symptoms

By: Dr. Jennifer Thompson, emergency physician, Hamilton Health Sciences

What is a concussion?

A concussion is a brain injury that can’t be seen on x-rays, MRIs or CT scans. You don’t necessarily need to lose consciousness to have one.

They can be caused by a direct or indirect hit to the head or body, for example a head on tackle on the football field, or a car crash that jolts your body. Because concussions can cause a wide range of symptoms in varying degrees, it’s safest to err on the side of caution if you believe you or someone you know might have one.

What signs and symptoms should you look out for?

Concussions can affect the way an individual thinks or remembers things in the short term. The signs and symptoms of a concussion can be subtle and may not show up immediately. They can include:

Thinking problems

  • A brief period of confusion
  • Poor concentration
  • Memory loss
  • Feeling like you are in a “fog”

Physical problems

  • Headache
  • Blurred vision
  • Nausea
  • Sensitivity to noise or light
  • Balance issues

Emotional problems

  • Irritability
  • Unexplained sadness
  • Anxiety

What should you do if you suspect a concussion?

If someone has a suspected concussion, they should stop what they’re doing and see a their family physician as soon as possible. If they continue to play sports for instance, they may risk having more severe and longer lasting symptoms.

If someone is knocked unconscious, call an ambulance to take them to the hospital immediately. Do not try to move the person yourself and do not try to remove any equipment such as a helmet until paramedics arrive.

Concussion injuries often go untreated and unnoticed for too long, so it’s important to watch carefully for the signs listed above. Symptoms of a concussion generally last for 7-14 days in adults and may last much longer in children.

When should you go to the doctor?

Anyone who has symptoms of a concussion should be seen by their family doctor as soon as possible. You should go the emergency department if any of the following symptoms are present:

  1. confusion
  2. a severe or worsening headache
  3. vomiting
  4. not waking up
  5. having any trouble walking
  6. having a seizure
  7. strange behaviour

For more information, visit Parachute Canada’s website.