Ask LH: What Happens to Your Brain When You Get a Concussion?

Ask LH: What Happens to Your Brain When You Get a Concussion?
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Though a mighty popular injury in Hollywood films, the concussion is often something we regular folks rarely interact with IRL. There has been a decent amount of discussion about the brain injury of late with regard to sportspeople and the risk of repeated concussions. For that reason, I thought I’d take a close look at the injury, what it does and how it can impact your health.

What is a concussion?

The Brain Foundation Australia defines a concussion as a “minor head injury that is not usually life-threatening. It is a common sporting injury, particularly in body contact sports (e.g. football, boxing), and recreational activities where falls are common, such as horse riding, cycling, skiing and diving”.

The website explains that usually, it occurs after someone has been hit in the head, though it can also occur through a powerful jolt. The impact of the incident causes the brain to knock against your skull, and a concussion develops from here.

What are the symptoms?

Usually, you’ll find that after a short period of unconsciousness you’ll experience symptoms like “confusion, dizziness, amnesia (generally lasting less than 24 hours), persistent, low-grade headaches,” the Brain Foundation Australia website writes.

This experience of amnesia is necessary for the diagnosis of a concussion. Other symptoms include double vision, vomiting, and general disorientation.

Is a concussion serious?

Usually not. It is important that you always see a doctor for assessment, however. There are times where considerable swelling or bruising to the brain can lead to the need for further observation, and in extreme cases, surgery may be required.

Health Direct Australia shares that most people recover fully in two weeks and are asked by doctors to rest up for 24-48 hours.

In certain cases where repeated traumatic brain injuries are experienced, however, (this includes concussions) individuals can find themselves facing a condition called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). The Alzheimer’s Association describes this as “a progressive and fatal brain disease associated with repeated traumatic brain injuries”.

“Studies have shown that people who experience TBI [traumatic brain injuries] in early to midlife are two to four times more at risk of developing dementia in late life.”

The connection between repeated concussions and CTE has caused sporting organisations to reconsider their approach to brain injuries in recent years, with the AFL implementing new rules requiring players to take a 12-day break after a concussion – as an example.

Australian Rugby Union, Basketball Australia, Boxing Australia, Football Federation Australia, Gridiron Australia and Olympic Winter Institute of Australia each have policies in place regarding concussions.

It is also believed that there may be a link between mental illness and concussion. (If you’re struggling with anxiety or depression please know there is support available. Reach out to Lifeline on 13 11 14 or contact BeyondBlue).

Why are we told not to let people sleep with a concussion?

This is one of the most common pieces of advice attached to concussions. It’s often believed that this is because of a fear the person may slip into a coma.

However, according to reports from the BBC, the reason for this rule is actually connected to fears that the person suffering from a concussion is experiencing a brain bleed, unknowingly.

Your best move is always to seek out medical advice immediately. Your doctor will be able to offer a treatment plan after assessing your condition.

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