Concussions have serious repercussions

Here he comes: the hulking middle linebacker. He cuts through the offensive line and jukes the blockers, heading toward the quarterback with explosive speed. The quarterback, now defenseless, has precious moments to brace himself before the defender pummels him.

The crowd flinches as the crack of the hit echoes through the stadium and the quarterback is whipped to the ground. For the linebacker, it’s a sack; for the quarterback, it’s a concussion.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies concussions as minor traumatic brain injuries that are the result of the bumps, blows or jolts to the head that cause the head and brain to move quickly back and forth. The motion alters the way the brain typically functions, according to the CDC.

Dr. Lily Jung-Henson, neurologist and medical director of the neurology clinic at Swedish Neuroscience Specialists, said that while direct blows remain a common cause of the injury, the sharp motion of whiplash can result in concussions as well.

She said confusion and amnesia are the most common concussion symptoms. Even while one is responsive, he or she may not be recording anything into memory, so take notice if he or she is asking the same question repeatedly. One may forget the events immediately before or after the injury.

More severe symptoms are indicative of a more severe injury. Furthermore, do not think one has not suffered a concussion if he or she retains consciousness through the injury.

“The statistics show that 90 percent of the time it doesn’t have to involve loss of consciousness,” Jung-Henson said, citing the CDC as her source.

Seek medical attention if one seems to have suffered a concussion, and be sure to notify the doctor of all symptoms, especially any loss of consciousness, memory loss or seizures.

Vomiting after a head injury is indicative of an increase in brain pressure, and seizures are the result of electrical misfires in the brain, Jung-Henson said. Both are the result of more severe injuries, so seek immediate medical attention in either case.

Also seek immediate medical attention if one fractures his or her skull. A head injury that results in one’s pupils being different sizes is indicative of a very serious injury.

If a concussion happens while one is participating in a sport, he or she needs to be removed from play immediately and cleared by a medical professional before playing again. In fact, this is now a legal requirement in the state for minors — the law was passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor last year.

The law came in the wake of Zackery Lystedt’s injury. In a 2006 middle school football game in Maple Valley, Lystedt, 13 at the time, suffered a concussion, and although he exhibited symptoms, he continued to play. He collapsed from swelling in his brain near the end of the game and was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center for emergency surgery.

Lystedt was in a coma for 31 days, and the injury left him unable to walk or function without 24-hour care.

The recovery process after suffering a concussion can take days or weeks, depending on the severity of the injury. Jung-Henson said that while recovering, one should get plenty of rest, slowly work back into daily activities, avoid physically demanding activities and, above all else, avoid another head injury.

Jung-Henson said a second injury before the brain has recovered can be fatal.

“Truly adding insult to injury, you can push somebody over the edge,” she said.

The combination of injuries leads to second impact syndrome, which causes brain swelling. The skull is fixed, so when there is no space left inside to expand, the brain pushes downward to the brain stem, which can send one into a coma and cause brain damage if not death.

Concussions can have long-term effects, such as often lead to post-concussion syndrome, which can cause headaches, dizziness, confusion, changes to mood and difficulty concentrating. These symptoms can last for months or weeks, or be permanent.

After suffering a concussion, one is at risk of more severe concussions in subsequent injuries. Jung-Henson said repeated head injuries can result in dementia pugilistica, characterized by degradation of mental ability, memory, tremors and coordination. The condition is common among boxers.

Repeated injury can also result in build-up of scar tissue in the brain, which can cause seizures.

The best way to prevent a concussion is to always wear the appropriate protective equipment while playing sports, and always wear a helmet while biking, skiing, snowboarding, skating or riding motorized vehicles, such as snowmobiles and motorcycles, according to the CDC.

Concussion symptoms:

  • Headache and pressure in one’s head
  • Confusion or dizziness
  • Clumsiness or difficulty balancing
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Amnesia
  • Fuzzy, blurry or double vision
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Anxiety, sadness, irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping or change in sleeping patterns

Printed on The Issaquah Press’ health page Oct. 13, 2010