Understanding Concussion

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head that can change the way your brain normally works. Concussions can also occur from a fall or a blow to the body that causes the head and brain to move quickly back and forth. Although concussions are usually not life-threatening, their effects can be serious.

Signs and Symptoms

Most people with a concussion recover quickly and fully, but symptoms may last for days, weeks or longer. In general, recovery may be slower among older adults, young children, teens and anyone who has had a concussion in the past. Symptoms of concussion usually fall into four categories:


  • Difficulty thinking clearly
  • Feeling slowed down
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty remembering new information
  • Little or no memory of the head injury
  • Feeling dazed


  • Headache
  • Fuzzy or blurry vision
  • Nausea or vomiting early on
  • Sensitivity to noise or light
  • Balance problems
  • Feeling tired, having no energy


  • Irritability, nervousness or anxiety
  • Sadness
  • More emotional than normal


  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Sleeping less than usual
  • Trouble falling asleep

Some of these symptoms may appear right away, while others may not be noticed for days or months after the injury, or until you start resuming everyday life and more demands are placed upon you.

Danger Signs

The signs and symptoms of a concussion can be difficult to identify. You may look fine even though you are acting or feeling differently. Sometimes, you may not recognize or want to admit that you are having problems. You may not understand why you are having problems and what your problems really are, which can make you nervous and upset.


In rare cases, a head injury causes a dangerous blood clot to form on the brain and crowd the brain against the skull. Seek immediate medical attention if you have any of the following danger signs after a bump, blow or jolt to the head or body:

  • Headache that gets worse and does not go away
  • Weakness, numbness or decreased coordination
  • Repeated vomiting or nausea
  • Slurred speech

Seek immediate medical attention if family or friends notice that you:

  • Look very drowsy or cannot be awakened
  • Have one pupil (the black part in the middle of the eye) larger than the other
  • Are having convulsions or seizures
  • Cannot recognize people or places
  • Are getting more and more confused, restless or agitated
  • Display unusual behavior
  • Lose consciousness (a brief loss of consciousness should be taken seriously and the person should be carefully monitored).


Seek immediate medical attention if your child received a bump, blow or jolt to the head or body, and your child:

  • Has any of the danger signs for adults listed above
  • Will not stop crying and cannot be consoled
  • Will not nurse or eat

See concussions in children about concussions in sports for additional information head injury and youth. Because a concussion or traumatic brain injury affects children and teens differently, it is important to have them evaluated by physicians who are experienced in diagnosing and treating children with head injuries at the Pediatric Concussion Clinic, which is sponsored by Marshall Neuroscience. 

Getting Better

Rest is very important after a concussion because it helps the brain to heal. Ignoring your symptoms and trying to “tough it out” often makes symptoms worse. Be patient because healing takes time. Only when your symptoms have reduced significantly, in consultation with your doctor, should you slowly and gradually return to your daily activities. If your symptoms come back or you get new symptoms as you become more active, it is a sign that you are pushing yourself too hard. Stop these activities and take more time to rest and recover. As the days go by, you can expect to gradually feel better, especially if you:

  • Get plenty of sleep at night, and rest during the day.
  • Avoid activities that are physically demanding (sports, heavy housecleaning, working out) or require a lot of concentration (sustained computer use, video games).
  • Abstain from alcohol. Alcohol and other drugs may slow your recovery and put you at risk of further injury.
  • Wait until you have your doctor's permission to drive a car, ride a bike or operate heavy equipment.

  • Last updated: 01/27/2015
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