Heads Up! The Low-Down on Concussions
In recent years there has been growing media attention around traumatic brain injury (TBI), with a particular focus on young athletes and concussions. However, TBI is in no way limited to sports injuries and are often a result of falls in the elderly, motor vehicle accidents and blows to other parts of the body that can impact the head. In Canada, 452 people experience a TBI every day which translates into one person every 3 minutes. Not only is this a cost to the government that has to support medical consequences of TBIs, but more importantly, it is a physical, emotional and financial strain on the individual who experiences it. Cognitive impairments, emotional disturbances including anxiety or depression, pain and even the onset of fibromyalgia are only few of the long list of symptoms and diagnoses that persist after a concussion.
What is a concussion? A blow to the head or body causing the brain to bounce inside the skull, causing tissue and therefore, chemical damage to the brain (which is why anxiety/depression is such a common consequence). Actual neural networks are damaged!
What are the signs and symptoms? Headaches, nausea/vomiting, change to or sensitivity of senses (ie. blurred vision). Others may notice the person exhibits mood changes, slower processing or not recalling what happened when they were hit. Remember, these may be present immediately after or show up days later.
How do I know this warrants emergent attention? Seek health care services immediately if experiencing: pupil asymmetry, decreased coordination, consistent vomiting or abnormal drowsiness.
The Prognosis & Moving Forward
Like everything we have discussed, each person is extremely individual as is the severity of their concussion. Regardless of individual factors, rest is the most important aid in helping the brain to recover. Overstimulation of the senses can be detrimental in the weeks following a TBI, so listening to your body and symptoms is important to navigate your way back to health. It is important to note Post-Concussive Syndrome is something to be aware of. This is when symptoms persist for longer than expected (months) and commonly occurs due to repeated head trauma. There are validated questionnaires and assessments to appropriately gauge when return to play/work is safe; consult a health care practitioner to figure out what works best for you. Naturopathic medicine offers a range of supplements and therapies that can aid the recovery of the brain, reducing inflammation and restoring healthy brain function. Of course the best advice is prevention – helmets are made for a reason, not just for parents to annoy their children. Wear them. Click here for a detailed list by CDC on prevention of TBI for various activities.
Individuals who have experienced concussions, in a single event or repeatedly, can attest to the long-term impact. An issue that is commonly reported is a lack of validation of their symptoms; we are used to being able to see or measure a person’s physical complaint, however the consequences of concussions are only experienced by the person who sustained it which can be a very isolating experience. So, if you know someone who has had or is going through recovery from a TBI, let them know you are listening!
1. Head Injury. http://www.headinjury.com/faqpcs.htm
2. Center for Disease Control. http://www.cdc.gov/headsup/basics/index.html
3. Tator, C.H. Concussions and their consequences: current diagnosis, management and prevention. Canadian Medical Association Journal. 2013; 185(11): 975-980.