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A concussion is an alteration of consciousness resulting from non-penetrating injury to the brain. The alteration may result in short- or long-term changes in how information is processed and transmitted throughout the brain. A concussion is a mild form of traumatic brain injury.

Physical impact is usually involved and may include external impact against the skull or internal impact of the moveable brain against the skull or other fixed intracranial structures. In some cases, no direct impact is observed and only rapid acceleration, deceleration or rotational motion is needed to produce the symptoms of concussion.

Patients with concussions may have many different types of symptoms. Symptoms may fluctuate with time, may be easily noticed by bystanders or may be more subtle and discovered by in-depth testing. Symptoms may be physical, emotional or sleep-related. Loss of consciousness may be the most obvious symptom, but loss of consciousness is not mandatory and is seen in only 10% of concussions.

Diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation for concussion is a specialty of Inova experts associated with the Inova Concussion Program.

Signs and symptoms of concussion

Physical symptoms include headache, nausea, vomiting, motor deficits (lack of coordination/imbalance), visual deficits, fatigue, photo/audio sensitivity, “dazed and stunned.”

Emotional symptoms can include irritability, sadness, emotional instability, nervousness, lack of emotional reactivity.

Sleep-related issues due to concussion include drowsiness/lethargy, increase or decrease in normal sleep length, increase in sleep latency (amount of time it takes to fall asleep).

Depending on the nature of the concussive event, and the forces involved, additional injuries (hemorrhage, fracture, spinal injury) may accompany a concussion. Patients with loss of consciousness or neurological deficit should go to the emergency room for further evaluation.

A medical professional will examine the patient and determine the need for a CT scan, MRI scan or additional tests.