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Head Injury and Concussion Treatment

What to do if you think you have a concussion

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Updated September 04, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Any athlete can wind up with a head injury such as a concussion. A fall, a collision or a blow to the head can result in a minor headache or a major head trauma. But because it's difficult to determine the severity of any head injury without a medical evaluation, it's important to obtain medical treatment for any head injury.

Any blow to the head during sports--even those that appear minor--can result in a serious head injury, particularly if the athlete continues playing sports. In fact, it's not uncommon for the warning signs or symptoms of a head injury to be delayed for several hours or even days after the initial head trauma. In some cases, delaying head injury treatment can have serious, and even life-threatening consequences.

If you suspect a head injury in yourself or someone you're with,even if you don't see any significant signs or symptoms, be safe, and follow these head injury treatment guidelines.

Head Injury Treatment Guidelines

  1. Stop Playing
    The first treatment step for anyone with a head injury is to stop playing the sport and rest. Get off the field and take some time to assess the situation and get appropriate care.

  2. Seek Immediate Medical Attention
    If the person who suffered the head injury loses consciousness, shows signs of confusion, has nausea, bleeding, drowsiness or other unusual behavior or head injury symptoms, call 911 immediately.

  3. Perform Necessary First Aid
    If the person shows any of the above signs of a serious head injury, get immediate assistance and perform any necessary first aid while awaiting emergency help.

  4. If Unsure, Go to the ER
    If you aren't sure how serious the head injury is, get it checked out at a trauma center or emergency room; a head CT scan may be used to diagnose bleeding in the brain.

  5. Watch For a Sudden or Dramatic Change in Symptoms, Behavior or Comprehension
    Any sudden change in level of symptoms -- such as a mild headache that suddenly becomes intense, sudden dizziness, sudden increase in drowsiness, etc. -- requires immediate medical attention.

  6. Watch For Delayed Head Injury Symptoms
    Even if you don't have obvious signs of a head injury, you should be alert to any symptoms that appear within hours or even a few days of a head trauma. If you notice any delayed symptoms such as a headache, dizziness, vomiting, confusion or loss of coordination, seek medical attention immediately.

  7. Pay Close Attention to Head Injuries in Children, the Elderly, or Anyone on Blood Thinners
    Because blood thinners (such as warfarin) can increase bleeding during injuries, what might otherwise be a mild head injury can develop a major bleed if a person is taking blood thinners.

More About: Head Injury and Sports Concussion

Sources

Consensus Statement on Concussion in Sport: the 3rd International Conference on Concussion in Sport held in Zurich, November 2008. http://bjsm.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/43/Suppl_1/i76 <P> Heegaard WG, Biros MH. Head. In: Marx J. Rosens Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 6th ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby; 2006: chap. 38.

University of Pittsburgh, Brain Trauma Research. http://www.neurosurgery.pitt.edu/research/trauma.html

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