One cannot see a concussion, but each year, an estimated 300,000 high school athletes sustain concussions, or a mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI), which can have serious and long-term health effects.
A concussion is defined as a mild brain injury incurred from a fall, motor vehicle crash or other bump or blow to the head and/or body. The acceleration and deceleration of the brain inside the skull after the impact causes changes to the nerves which make up the brain and changes how they function.
According to the Brain Injury Research Institute, concussions occur more often in competitive sports for high school athletes, with football accounting for more than 60% of cases. Among children and youth ages 5-18, the five leading sports or recreational activities which account for concussions include bicycling, football, basketball, playground activities and soccer. Soccer is the leading cause of concussions among female high school athletes.

Signs to look for
Scott Bohner, D.O., Mayo Clinic Health System family medicine physician at Winneshiek Medical Center in Decorah, noted that the onset of symptoms may occur minutes or hours after suffering a concussion, such as confusion, headache, dizziness, nausea or fatigue. Other symptoms, which include memory issues, difficulty sleeping, mood changes and imbalance, can arise days later.
    Individuals should seek medical care if they suspect a concussion and are experiencing a severe headache, trouble walking or talking, vision changes, vomiting more than three times, loss of control over bladder or bowels, or feeling weak or numb in part of the body.
“Obviously the more physical or dangerous the sport is to the head, the more risk of concussion,” the WMC doctor said.

Diagnosis and recovery
“Concussions are diagnosed clinically,” said Dr. Bohner. “While we don’t have a specific test to diagnose a concussion, we sometimes use CT or MRI scans to ensure there aren’t signs of a more serious injury, such as bleeding in the brain.”
Recovery from a MTBI depends on the extend of the injury, with some patients improving within hours, though most concussions take days to weeks to recover from.
“Rest is the hallmark of treatment,” Dr. Bohner noted. “This rest is not only physical rest, but mental rest as well. It is important to get a good amount of sleep and avoid activities which require a lot of concentration.”
Those looking to get back in the action will be allowed a gradual return to play, involving increasing the activity slowly to assure there are no increases in symptoms, as too much activity prior to being fully healed can cause prolonged symptoms. The return to play is usually supervised by a health care professional, such as an athletic trainer.

Short and long-term effects
Besides being sidelined from activities, student athletes suffering concussions may experience difficulty in the classroom with memory and concentration. Sensitivity to light and sound in daily activities also hinder daily life for those suffering a MTBI.
While there is no specific number of concussions which would limit an athlete’s participation, Dr. Bohner pointed out that research shows that concussions seem to be easier to get the more one has.
As doctors continue to learn more about the long-term effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), multiple concussions, it has been found that some athletes have developed long-term headaches, imbalance, memory issues and sleep difficulties months to years after the brain injury.

Preventive measures
To many people “getting your bell rung” may seem a mild bump, but the blow to the head could have serious consequences long-term and may be prevented. While helmets in athletics, bicycling, skating, horseback riding and other activities help reduce the risk of serious brain injuries, they are not designed to prevent concussions. For more information, consult your physician or visit https://sportsmedicine.mayoclinic.org/service/concussion-treatment or Gundersen Health System Sports Medicine website at www.gundersenhealth.org/services/concussion-care/.