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Brain & Nervous System Health Center

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Concussion (Traumatic Brain Injury)

The most common and least serious type of traumatic brain injury is called a concussion. The word comes from the Latin concutere, which means "to shake violently."

According to the CDC, between 2001 and 2009, an estimated 173,285 people under age 19 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for concussions related to sports and recreation activities. Other causes include car and bicycle accidents, work-related injuries, falls, and fighting.

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How can you tell if you have had a concussion? Is it always serious? And what should you do if you have a concussion? Here are answers to some important questions about concussions.

What Is a Concussion?

As seen in countless Saturday morning cartoons, a concussion is most often caused by a sudden direct blow or bump to the head.

The brain is made of soft tissue. It's cushioned by spinal fluid and encased in the protective shell of the skull. When you sustain a concussion, the impact can jolt your brain. Sometimes, it literally causes it to move around in your head. Traumatic brain injuries can cause bruising, damage to the blood vessels, and injury to the nerves.

The result? Your brain doesn't function normally. If you've suffered a concussion, vision may be disturbed, you may lose equilibrium, or you may fall unconscious. In short, the brain is confused. That's why Bugs Bunny often saw stars.

Can Children Have Concussions?

Because their heads are disproportionately large compared to the rest of their body, concussions often occur in young children. As kids enter adolescence, they experience rapid height and weight gain. Both are factors that make them more prone to accidents than adults.

If a child has a concussion, an adult should monitor him or her for the first 24 hours. It's important to watch for behavioral changes. Young children, especially, may not be able to fully communicate what they are feeling, so it is critical to watch them closely. Do not give medications, including aspirin, which may cause bleeding, to a child without consulting a doctor.

What Are the Signs of a Concussion?

Concussions can be tricky to diagnose. Though you may have a visible cut or bruise on your head, you can't actually see a concussion. Signs may not appear for days or weeks after the injury. Some symptoms last for just seconds; others may linger.

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