Myth vs. Fact: The Truth About Concussion

In honor of Brain Injury Awareness Month, a local neuropsychologist discusses some common misconceptions around the most common type of traumatic brain injury.

 

By Dr. Michael Heptig, Psy.D.

It’s almost impossible to escape the amount information about concussions swirling around in the news and social media – and it’s no wonder why. With more than 1.7 million new cases reported each year, concussion is the most common type of traumatic brain injury in the United States, affecting people of all ages and all walks of life. 

But not all information is created equal. Anyone who’s been on social media or browsed the internet for a few hours knows how vast the online world is… and how much misinformation is out there.

As a neuropsychologist who helps individuals rebound after a traumatic brain injury, it’s important to me that my patients – and everyone – have the knowledge to make informed, intelligent decisions about when to seek help for a brain injury, should the need ever arise. And since March is Brain Injury Awareness Month, there’s no better time to separate fact from fiction when it comes to concussion.

Myth No. 1 :  Concussions are not a big deal.  You can just “shake them off.” Make no mistake, concussion might be called a ‘mild’ traumatic brain injury – but it is a serious medical condition that requires medical attention. A concussion happens when a hit or jolt to the head or body causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth. This can damage brain cells and cause chemical changes in the brain. It’s important to know that symptoms of a concussion may not develop for several hours after an injury, and can continue to change over time. That’s why it’s required, for instance, that athletes leave a game after a suspected concussion. The same is true for anyone who’s injured: If you think you have a concussion, use caution and seek medical attention, even if you feel fine at first. While most people will make a full recovery, progress is linked to obtaining the right treatment after an injury.

Myth No. 2: You need to lose consciousness or be “knocked out” to have a concussion. Approximately 90% of people diagnosed with a concussion do not report loss of consciousness. An individual with a concussion may experience symptoms that fall into four different categories: physical (e.g., headache, dizziness, nausea, balance issues); cognitive (e.g., impaired memory, attention, reaction time); psychological (e.g., irritability, depression, anxiety), and/or sleep disturbance (e.g., sleeping too little or too much).

Myth No. 3: Helmets and protective equipment can prevent concussions. While these tools can decrease the risk of a serious brain injury, no equipment can completely protect the head from a concussion. (Remember, a concussion can occur with any hit to the body – not just a hit to the head.)

Myth No. 4: All concussions are the same. The effects of a concussion can vary from one person to another. People may experience one, or any combination of concussion symptoms. Research suggests that a history of migraines, depression or ADHD; age; gender; concussion history; and severity of symptoms can all affect your recovery time. Some research has suggested that children are more vulnerable to concussion than adult, and individuals who have incurred  a previous concussion are more vulnerable to future concussions.

Concussions are a serious thing – but the more you know, the more likely it is you’ll know what to do should you or someone you love need treatment in the future. To learn more about concussions – including symptoms and when to seek help, visit our Concussions page.