This is a post authored by J. Forrest Bennett, ARNP who works in the rehabilitation department and on the concussion team led by Dr Samuel Browd (@DrBrowd), medical director of Seattle Children’s Sports Concussion Program. Forrest has had the unique experience to care for children after concussions in the immediate time after injury and in weeks to months thereafter when symptoms are prolonged. His wisdom can help us all understand the opportunity we have to improve children’s recovery after a head injury. In this post he explains what happens to the brain cells during a concussion, what constitutes risk for concussions, and the 5 things all of us need to know about concussions. I certainly know more after reading this and suspect you will too. Please leave comments or questions if you have them. Click here to read the first post in this series.
What Happens During A Concussion?
A concussion is a complex process affecting the brain, brought on by biomechanical forces (like a blow to the head, car crash, etc.) The force is transmitted to the head and can result in usually short-lived symptoms such as headaches, brief loss of consciousness, nausea, and/or dizziness. These symptoms are believed to be due to a temporary shift in the neurotransmitters (chemicals that allow cells to communicate) in the brain. This helps explain the symptoms associated with a time-limited injury such as a concussion.
This also explains why diagnosing and managing concussions can be frustrating for families and medical providers. Unlike a broken bone, we do not have imagining or blood tests that enable definitive diagnosis of concussion. Medical providers will sometimes order head CTs or brain MRIs to make sure that there is not a more severe injury, but the scans cannot diagnosis concussion.
Diagnosing concussion currently relies on a detailed history and physical exam. If an injury occurs when a child is playing in an organized sport, a sideline assessment should be performed to look for common post-concussive symptoms. In 2017, the guideline for sideline assessment for concussion was updated. Depending on the severity of the initial presentation, one may need to be evaluated in an emergency department to help rule out a more severe injury.
The goal is to prevent injuries, screen for potential head injuries when appropriate, and to diagnose injuries so that we can treat the symptoms and limit the impact.