Concussions: Know the Symptoms, Get Help

With annual rates nearly doubling since 2007, concussions are a frequent cause of missed school and work among college students. The frequency of these head injuries now reaches in the millions each year.

During Brain Injury Awareness Month, we’d like to give you the tools to determine if you (or a friend) have a concussion and should seek medical care to assist with your recovery.

A concussion is a mild form of traumatic brain injury (TBI) caused by a direct blow to the head or an indirect blow to the upper body–the force of which is transferred to the head and brain. This negatively affects the brain’s ability to function normally.

Contrary to common belief, concussions can occur with or without loss of consciousness. Participants in certain sports are at higher risk for concussion, but at least 30% of the concussions cared for by the IU Health Center occur in non-athletes. Students may slip on the ice, hit their head on a dorm bunk bed, or simply trip and fall, sometimes under the influence of alcohol, and sometimes not.

The effects of concussions are divided into four categories.

  • Physical: The most common, persistent physical symptoms and signs include headache, nausea, light and sound sensitivity, vomiting, and dizziness.
  • Emotional: Individuals with a concussion are more sensitive to stress and fear, and may find themselves emotionally upset to extremes that seem out of proportion for the event.
  • Cognitive: These symptoms pose some of the greater challenges for college students whose primary role is to attend class, learn, and demonstrate their knowledge on a daily basis. The cognitive repercussions include mental fogginess, difficulty focusing and concentrating, and trouble with memory.
  • Sleep: To make matters worse, concussion can adversely affect the quality of students’ sleep–specifically through delay in falling asleep or staying asleep. However, separating these symptoms from the typically sleep-deprived college student can be challenging.

Treatment for concussions is focused on mental, cognitive, and physical rest. Immediately after an injury, we recommend full rest from all academic activities–often a significant challenge for students. The amount of rest varies, but typically begins with 3-5 days.

Following re-evaluation, we may suggest specific re-entry into academic activities with a “return to learn” progression. Students can start with solely attending class (with no outside coursework), then advance to attempting homework, and finally to taking exams.

While resting and gradually increasing mental activity, it is also important to minimize screen time, practice good sleep habits, and stay hydrated. Physical activity should be restricted until all symptoms are fully resolved, as there is an increased risk of severe brain injury during recovery.

Our healthcare providers are experienced in guiding patients’ return to their normal college lives. If you suspect a concussion, call 812-855-7688 and asked to be scheduled with Dr. David Fletcher, our concussion specialist within the Sports Performance and Fitness Health Clinic. The sooner you get help, the better.

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