How to tell if you have a concussion or TBI

We talk about spot signs of a concussion or TBI.

July 28, 2020


A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI). This information can help you prevent, identify and care for concussions and TBIs whether you’re:

  • A sports fan on the sidelines
  • A player in a contact sport
  • A concerned parent with a child who plays sports

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 155 Americans die from injuries caused by TBIs each day. Some doctors think the rate of concussions and TBIs may be higher than what is known because not everyone reports symptoms. 

While a “small” head impact may not seem like a big deal, concussions can cause significant long-term complications that go far beyond time on the sidelines.

Concussion symptoms

Symptoms of a concussion vary greatly between people, both in terms of how serious the injury is and what kind of symptoms appear. Concussion symptoms are usually worse with strenuous mental or physical activity. 

Light physical activity (like walking) has been proven to be helpful for symptoms. People can have any combination of symptoms. Typical symptoms include:

  • Difficulty concentrating or poor memory
  • Headaches, including those with migraine symptoms
  • Sleep disturbances and drowsiness
  • Balance issues
  • Confusion right after the injury 
  • Short-term memory lapses or not knowing people and places
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Mood changes 

Myths and misconceptions

There are many myths and misconceptions about concussions. Some of them include:

Myth: You have to be knocked out or unconscious to have a concussion.  
Fact: Some people think that concussions only happen after a loss of consciousness. In many cases, a patient does not lose consciousness. If you have a short loss of consciousness, it does not predict the severity of injury.

Myth: Concussions only happen after a direct head impact. 
Fact: Receiving a hit anywhere on the body causing rotational acceleration of the head and neck may cause a concussion.

Myth: Nothing can be done for a concussion. 
Fact: If a concussion is found early and taken care of the right way by a health care professional, it can lessen how bad the symptoms get and how long you have symptoms.  

Consequences of concussion 

Concussion symptoms can last a long time and become more serious if they’re not identified or cared for correctly. The long-term consequences of concussion are being studied and may be serious and long-lasting.

Those who take part in high-contact sports after having a concussion have greater chances for Second Impact Syndrome.

Second Impact Syndrome is secondary trauma to the brain. It can result in swelling of the brain, permanent long-term brain problems and even death.

If your child or another athlete is showing signs or symptoms of a concussion, there are a few things you can do to help:

  • Remove the athlete from competition right away. 
  • Watch the athlete for worsening symptoms over the next four hours. If symptoms worsen there may be a more serious injury and the athlete should be sent to the emergency department right away. 
  • Have the athlete follow up with their primary care provider or sports medicine doctor within 24 to 48 hours for a complete physical exam.

Get help for concussions 

Our sports medicine doctors are trained in how to care for concussions and TBIs. Our providers in orthopedics and physical therapy can also help with care after a concussion or TBI.

If you have questions about concussion or TBI symptoms and would like to make an appointment, please call us at 1-206-860-5584.


By Jeremy D Johnson, MD, MPH, RMSK

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The information provided is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be medical advice or a substitute for professional health care. You should consult an appropriate health care professional for your specific needs.