Knowing These 9 Concussion Symptoms Could Save Your Brain

Symptoms of concussion can be obvious and show up immediately, or they can be subtler, not appearing for days—or weeks—later. Here are the concussion symptoms to know, so you can spot them in yourself, or in others.

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Brain injuries are on many people’s minds these days. Recent research shows that even a single concussion (and certainly several) can have long term consequences like structural brain damage that can lead to depression and anxiety as well as chronic headaches, balance issues, and difficulties with attention or concentration. They’re also strikingly common. In a recent poll of more than 3,000 men and women, 23% said they’d suffered at least one concussion during their lives. Those figures are self reported—the respondents could have been seen by a medical professional or simply diagnosed themselves. But considering that there’s currently no definitive, objective exam for concussion—they don’t show up on MRIs or CT scans—recognizing the symptoms is how they’re identified whether you, a friend, or your physician makes the call.

“If you have a certain set of symptoms, you can be reasonably certain you have a concussion,” says explains Kenneth Podell, PhD, director of Houston Methodist Concussion Center. It’s important to realize that symptoms may be sudden and acute or may be subtler and worsen over the next couple of days, he adds. Know the signs so you can get the help you need as soon as possible to rule out potentially life threatening brain injury, to get your brain on the mend, and to minimize the risk of lasting repercussions.

Here are nine telltale signs to look for.

01 of 09

You were knocked out

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If you were out for the count, you’re concussed. If you’re by your lonesome and you come-to without even realizing you were knocked out, but are disoriented and don’t remember how you got on the ground, that also means you’re concussed. “Interestingly, being knocked out doesn’t mean you have a more severe concussion than if you weren’t knocked unconscious,” says Chris Hummel, clinical associate professor in Ithaca College’s Department of Exercise and Sport Sciences.

02 of 09

You have a headache that just won't quit

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Clocking your head is bound to hurt. If you have a concussion, however, that headache won’t go away and it will likely feel different from those you’ve had in the past, says neurologist Barry Kosofsky, MD, PhD, of New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medicine. “It’s like a pressure headache that is nearly constant. It may get worse when you lie down and a little better when you stand up,” he says. “It also is inducible by increased blood flow to the brain. So doing mental or physical activities that bring more blood into the brain will cause pain.”

03 of 09

You're dizzy, off balance, and may be sick to your stomach

You're dizzy, off balance, and may be sick to your stomach
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Being dizzy or off balance is a common symptom of concussion, so much so that balance testing is a common assessment tool for diagnosing the injury as well as for evaluating recovery. If your head is spinning and you’re stumbling around, those are red flags signaling concussion, says Hummel. But even subtle symptoms like feeling unsteady on your feet can indicate a brain injury. In some cases you may also feel sick to your stomach or vomit after you’ve hit your head—both of which are symptoms of a concussion.

04 of 09

You're foggy or confused

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Feeling foggy, confused, or mentally slow are all signs of concussion, says Dr. Podell. It can be profound, such as not knowing which way is home, or more subtle problems with processing information. Having trouble remembering things, being unable to concentrate or pay attention, or having more trouble than usual organizing your daily tasks, solving problems, or making decisions are all signs that you’ve injured your brain.

05 of 09

The world is fuzzy and/or bright lights hurt

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If you’re having trouble focusing—literally with your eyes—you’re likely concussed. Double or blurry vision is a symptom, as is light sensitivity. “If all the sudden the world seems too bright and light is really bothering you, that’s a sign of concussion,” says Hummel.

06 of 09

You feel anxious, irritable, or just not like yourself

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Feeling anxious is a common symptom of depression, as are other personality changes like irritability. But depending on your circumstances, these can be trickier to pick up in yourself. You just had a traumatic incident that probably hurt like heck and scared you, so sure you’re maybe not yourself. But don’t brush it off. Pay attention if others point out any personality changes, says Hummel. “Someone who knows you well can pick out subtle changes in your personality like you’re usually pretty happy go lucky, but now you’re more quiet and withdrawn that can signal a brain injury,” he says

07 of 09

You feel lethargic

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It takes a lot of energy to heal an injured brain. It’s very common to feel drowsy, listless, and downright lethargic. Along those lines, keeping someone awake after a concussion is no longer recommended. “Physical and cognitive rest during the first 24 to 48 hours is essential for proper concussion healing,” says Hummel. He recommends that you find someone to stay with you if you live alone for the first 24 hours after the injury. This is in case you develop symptoms of a life-threatening hematoma, such as loss of consciousness, inability to be awakened, as well as worsening severe headache.

08 of 09

Your sleep is messed up

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A cruel irony of concussion is that though you may feel totally wiped out, you also may find that you can’t sleep well at night. Research shows that up to 90% of people who have had a concussion suffer with sleep disturbances such as insomnia.

09 of 09

You think you might have a concussion

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Trust your instincts and don’t second-guess yourself when it comes to your brain, says Hummel. “If you’ve hit your head hard and feel off and it crosses your mind that you could have a concussion, chances are pretty good that you do. Go get yourself checked out to be safe."

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