April 26, 2016

How Concussions Impact Brain Health

Be Healthy

From professional sports arenas to peewee playing fields across the nation, the incidence of concussions is on the rise.

An athlete who suffers one concussion is four to six times more likely to sustain a second one.

If left undiagnosed, a concussion can place an athlete at risk of developing second-impact syndrome, a potentially fatal injury that occurs when an athlete sustains a second head injury before a previous head injury has completely healed.

Concussions are a hot-button topic, especially in Hawaii, where hundreds of student-athletes suffer concussions each year.

A concussion is a serious brain injury caused by a sudden bump or blow to the head that can lead to a variety of symptoms:

  • Difficulty communicating, concentrating, falling asleep.
  • Dizziness.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Feeling emotional, mentally foggy or fatigued.
  • Headache.
  • Irritability, sadness, nervousness.
  • Nausea and/or vomiting.
  • Numbness or tingling sensation.
  • Problems with balance, memory or vision.
  • Sensitivity to light or noise.
  • Sleeping more than usual.

When concussion is suspected, a trained coach, certified athletic trainer or team physician should immediately perform an initial "sideline" evaluation. This should include:

  • Short-term memory recall test. (What team are we playing against? What was the last thing you ate?)
  • Long-term recall test. (What is your full name? Where were you born?)
  • Assessment of the athlete's ability to stay attentive to a complex task (e.g., reciting the months backwards).

All athletes who sustain a concussion, no matter how minor, should undergo an evaluation by a qualified health care provider before returning to play.

Even after all concussion symptoms have resolved, healing may not be complete. Neurocognitive testing can be a very helpful tool in determining brain function. With a comparison to a baseline test, this evaluation can be used in conjunction with a physician's examination to reduce future risks.

Athletes can return to play after they are completely free of all symptoms of a concussion and remain symptom free during and after physical testing.