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Concussions – Fact vs. Fiction

Houston, TX - 2/16/2012

According to the Centers for Disease Control, sports-related concussions are an epidemic in this country. With more than 3 million sports-related concussions happening every year, research shows the effects can be long-lasting, even leading to permanent brain damage and early onset of dementia. Dr. Howard Derman, director of the Methodist Concussion Center in Houston, shares some of the common misconceptions about the brain and the severity of head injuries.

Myth: Everyone with a concussion needs a CT scan or MRI right away.

Fact: While there is damage to the brain cells in a concussion, the damage is at a microscopic level and cannot be seen on MRI or CT scans. The concussed brain looks normal on these tests, even though it has been seriously injured. Even if a CT scan or MRI shows you’re “okay,” your physician should also perform a physical exam. The signs and symptoms of concussion can appear immediately after the injury or may not appear until days after. Some of the many observable signs to make note of are:

  • Appears dazed or stunned
  • Answers questions slowly
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light or noise
  • Cannot recall events prior to the hit or fall

Myth: You should not treat the headache from concussion with any medications because you might mask some symptoms.

Fact: Over the counter pain relievers, especially ones that contain acetaminophen are fine to use in conjunction with a physician-approved return-to-activity regimen. At times prescription medicine may be needed. Anyone with a concussion, especially an athlete, should not return to activity until medically cleared for return. The athlete will need help from parents, teachers, coaches and athletic trainers to help manage his or her activity level.

Myth: Someone with a concussion should not fall asleep even though they may be drowsy.

Fact: Drowsiness is a very common concussion symptom. Sometimes the best thing you can do for a concussion is getting some rest. Getting plenty of sleep and allowing the brain to heal will make for a faster recovery. Avoiding activities that are physically demanding will also make the healing process much quicker. Family members should check on the concussed patient/athlete at least every few hours and be sure the patient can be easily awakened.

Myth: Children recover from concussions at the same rate as adults.

Fact: Physical impact is harder on kids and teens because of their ongoing brain development. Children are more susceptible to post-concussion syndrome (PCS) and serious head injury. PCS is a complex set of neuropsychological disorders with symptoms lasting weeks or even years after the injury. Symptoms can interfere with school, social activities and relationships.

Myth: There are no long-term effects of concussion.

Fact: Some of the likely long-term effects of a concussion can include:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Blurred and double vision
  • Neurocognitive impairment
  • Increased risk of early onset dementia (also known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy)

Head trauma, especially concussion, continues to be the most under diagnosed problem in sports. The medical treatment for concussions focuses on allowing the brain to heal itself and to utilize rest. The Methodist Concussion Center partners with the Houston Texans on concussion awareness and education. For more information on concussions, call the Methodist Concussion Center at 713-441-8277 or visit the Concussion Center website.

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