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What is a Concussion?

Concussion is defined as a temporary disruption of brain function that results in an alteration or loss of consciousness and one or more of the memory symptoms listed in the Concussion Symptoms table below. Concussions are the most common type of brain injury and they can cause many short-term and long-term problems, as well as a variety of physical, cognitive, and emotional symptoms.

Lots of people wonder “How do I know if I sustained a concussion?” Sometimes it is difficult to tell if a concussion occurred. You don’t have to lose consciousness to have a concussion. There aren’t any outward visible signs. Although there may be cuts, scrapes, and bruises from the incident or accident that caused the concussion. However, sometimes the signs and symptoms are so subtle, they are missed and it goes undiagnosed and left untreated. Concussion symptoms range from mild to severe, and they can last for hours, days, weeks, or longer. Even a minor dysregulation of the brain can have a serious and significant impact on one’s life. Therefore, it is important to seek medical advice no matter how mild a head injury or concussion seems. Proper diagnosis and treatment is crucial to recovery and prevention of more serious injury.

Also, concussion can also be called mild brain injury, mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI), mild head injury (MHI), minor head trauma, and post concussion syndrome (PCS), PCS is often treated as a narrower category. Although the term “concussion” is still used in sports literature as interchangeable with “MHI” or “MTBI”, the general clinical medical literature uses “MTBI” instead.

What Causes Concussions?

Concussions are typically caused by a blow, bump or jolt to the head. The brain is a soft complex organ made of of soft tissue, surrounded by spinal fluid and protected by the skull. Under normal circumstances, the fluid cushions the brain preventing it from hitting the skull’s hard uneven surface but hard impacts to the head or upper body can cause the brain to bang against or rotate within the skull’s bony interior walls. If the force is strong enough, it strains, stretches, shears and even tears the nerve cells and nerve fibers, impairing brain function, and resulting in concussion (mTBI) or TBI.

Concussion can also result from sudden acceleration and deceleration of the head. Imagine an aggressive push to the chest, an accident causing whiplash, or the often overlooked amusement park rides. All of these produce a sudden action of snapping the head and neck, back and forth quickly, jostling the brain.

Leading causes of concussion:

  • Automobile accidents
  • Falls
  • Assault
  • Shaken baby syndrome
  • Blast injury
  • Playground injuries
  • Sports or recreational activities
Diffused Axonal Injury, Concussion effects diagram.
Effects of whiplash on the brain.

Concussion Symptoms

Concussion symptoms and signs are not always obvious or experienced immediately. Some people experience no ill effects, while others experience long term physical, cognitive, and emotional symptoms.

Common concussion signs and symptoms include:

  • Feeling disoriented and confused
  • Memory loss
  • Blurred vision
  • Appearing dazed
  • Dizziness
  • Temporary loss of consciousness
  • Delayed response to questions
  • Slurred speech and “seeing stars”.

These side effects often resolve shortly after the impact, however some might experience nausea, vomiting, headache, dizziness and fatigue several hours after the impact or injury took place.

Concussion Symptoms by Type


  • Fatigue
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Hearing problems
  • Headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness
  • Nightmares/Flashbacks
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Falling asleep unexpectedly
  • Hand or leg tremors
  • Sensitivity to light and/or sound
  • Sexual dysfunction or loss of sex drive
  • Gait imbalance
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Loss of taste and smell


  • Confrontational attitude
  • Explosive temper
  • Fearfulness
  • Impatience
  • Thoughtlessness
  • Hypervigilance


  • Depression
  • Agitation
  • Apathy
  • Irritability
  • Fear of “going crazy”
  • Frustration or anger
  • Guilt or shame
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Anxiety
  • Frequent mood changes


  • Distractibility
  • Disorientation
  • Temporary Amnesia
  • Problems with Speaking
  • Poor Judgment
  • Slow Thinking
  • Inability to Focus Attention
  • Problems Remembering What You Heard
  • Word Finding Problems
  • Feelings of Confusion
  • Long or Short Term Memory Problems

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Coping with Concussion and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury

If you're suffering from a concussion, or any other form of mild traumatic brain injury, pick up Dr. Diane's book Coping with Concussion and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury and start healing today!

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Dr. Diane® Roberts Stoler, Ed.D.
7 Hodges Street
N. Andover, MA 01845
Phone: (800) 500-9971


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Image Credit Elaine Boucher

Within each person shines an inner light that illuminates our path and is the source of hope. Illness, trauma, suffering and grief can diminish the light and shroud hope. I am a catalyst for hope and change, offering a way to rekindle this inner light.

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