Concussion Myths Dispelled
When we hear that someone has suffered a brain injury, most of us will assume that the effects of this will be evident. A person may have lost his or her memory, forgotten their loved ones and/or behave very differently to how they were before. When we hear that someone has had a concussion, it is easy to think this is a temporary injury with no long-term consequences. This is not true!
In fact, a concussion is considered to be a minor traumatic brain injury, and despite the inclusion of the word minor, it is nonetheless a traumatic brain injury with possibly long-lasting effects that could require ongoing treatment and support.
Symptoms can include physical changes such as dizziness and balance problems, cognitive issues such as a negative impact on attention and concentration levels as well as emotional, social and behavioural problems. These symptoms can hugely impact a person’s life and their ability to work, as well as the lives of their loved ones.
It is important to be aware of the realities of concussion and the importance of receiving treatment. I am going to help by dispelling some common myths surrounding concussions:
1. You have only suffered concussion if you lost consciousness
This is incorrect. Loss of consciousness is only one sign or symptom of concussion. Other symptoms such as a continuing headache, dizziness, feeling sick or vomiting, feeling confused, memory loss, balance issues, unusual personality changes and changes in vision. As there are many different and varying signs, some evident to others and some not, it is common for concussions to be missed and left undiagnosed and untreated.
2. Concussion only arises from serious accidents
In reality, even minor falls or collisions can lead to concussions and we are all at risk of them regardless of our lifestyles. The most common causes include road traffic accidents and accidents at home or work, but a blow to the face or head after falling over from a night out or a rough game of football can equally result in concussion. Although some people are at higher risk of concussions such as young men, the elderly and children, we should all be conscious of any impacts to our head and look out for our family and friends if they suffer any head injury.
3. If I had a concussion, medical professionals would have told me
It is true that signs of a concussion usually appear within a few minutes or hours of a head injury, so if you attend a hospital or GP practice straight away then you may increase your chances of a diagnosis. However, some of the symptoms of concussion are subtle and can relate to cognitive or behavioural changes, which may not be picked up by professionals or even by you or those close to you early on, but may instead become apparent over time. Your symptoms could also overlap with other factors. For example, if you fell over during a night out where you consumed alcohol, symptoms such as blurred vision might be attributed to alcohol consumption, when in fact it is related to a head injury. Even in the absence of a formal diagnosis of concussion, it is important that you seek further medical assistance if concussion-related symptoms persist after sustaining an injury or if they begin sometime after.
4. Concussions do not have any lasting impact on a person
The seriousness of concussion is often underestimated. Whilst it is probably true that most people recover from post-concussion symptoms within a few months. The problem is when you fall in to the category of people that don’t. Studies and research have shown that persistent symptoms can continue for as long as one year after injury and there is no definitive guidance as to when symptoms will come to an end.
5. I’ve had my post-concussion symptoms for a long time now so I don’t think anyone can help
This is not true. For most people, the symptoms only last for a few months however if you still have symptoms and you have not kept your GP updated about this then you should speak to them again and ask for a referral to a specialist. Depending on the nature of your symptoms, support can be provided by neurologists, neuropsychologists and rehabilitation specialists.
Support and guidance
The NHS website has a helpful page on concussions; the signs and symptoms and what to do if you think you might have concussion. This is important for people to read and not just those who think they may have suffered a head injury. Families and friends should also be aware of the subtle signs and symptoms to look out for, which the person themselves may miss and is even more important in the case of babies and young children who will not be able to tell you. As well as the NHS website, there are other helpful places to turn to for advice. The charity Headway has published an e-booklet about minor head injuries and concussion as well as a factsheet for GPs.
It is important that minor traumatic brain injuries, such as concussions, are not overlooked and by raising awareness we hope that people will feel more informed about them and feel able to ask for treatment and support.