How a Concussion Affects the Brain

Maybe you bonked your head on the corner of the kitchen cabinet, or your daughter took a knee to the head during a soccer game. Either way, a concussion can be the result.

While they’re most often associated with sports, concussions can and do occur in regular everyday life. When a concussion occurs, it can cause a number of symptoms, including pain that may linger for several days. 

The effects of a concussion, though, can linger for much longer. We’re answering a few common questions about concussions and their effect on the body below.

What is a concussion?

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury, or a TBI. Concussions are caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head — or by a hit to the body, like a football tackle, that causes the head to rapidly move back and forth.

When the head is jostled in this way, the brain bounces around inside the skull, which causes changes that impact normal brain function.

What are the symptoms of a concussion?

The brain is the control center for the entire body, so when it is impaired in any way, a variety of symptoms can occur. Concussion symptoms tend to fall into two broad categories — symptoms that can be observed by someone else and symptoms that are reported by the person with the concussion.

A bystander might observe that someone with a concussion:

  • Appears dazed or confused
  • Can’t remember what happened before or after the hit or fall
  • Exhibits mood or behavior changes
  • Replies to questions slowly
  • Stumbles or moves clumsily

Someone with a concussion might report experiencing symptoms, including:

  • Balance difficulties
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Headache or head pressure
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Problems with vision
  • Sluggishness

Does a concussion always cause loss of consciousness?

A concussion may or may not cause loss of consciousness. In fact, most people experience this traumatic brain injury without ever losing consciousness. 

What are the long-term effects of a concussion on the brain?

While a concussion causes an immediate impact on brain function, they can also disrupt brain processes for weeks, months and even years afterward.

Some symptoms dissipate within a few days or weeks, such as dizziness. Other symptoms may linger for weeks to months.

The most common long-term effects of a concussion include: 

  • Brain fog
  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Diminished problem-solving skills
  • Post-traumatic headaches
  • Vision problems
  • Persistent exhaustion
  • Behavioral issues
  • Sleep disorders such as insomnia 

Those who have experienced a concussion are also at a greater risk of developing mental health issues such as depression or anxiety in the aftermath of a head injury.

In most cases, concussion symptoms go away within six weeks. When symptoms related to a concussion linger for three months or longer, the cluster of symptoms is called post-concussive syndrome. 

How do you treat a concussion?

Concussions are typically treated by resting the brain with ample sleep and avoidance of activities for a short time. Most concussions are treated in the emergency department or primary care clinic. Individual symptoms, such as headache, may be treated using over the counter or prescription medications, as needed.

When do I need emergency care?

One should be aware of the symptoms that warrant seeking care right away at an emergency department such as:

  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Worsening headache
  • Weakness or numbness in any part of the body
  • Slurring of speech
  • Ongoing vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness 
  • Worsening confusion or agitation

It is important for anyone who experiences a concussion to avoid a repeated head injury in the future as the effects of a subsequent concussion can be more severe. This is especially important for those who experience lingering concussion symptoms or post-concussive syndrome. 

Brain and Spine Care at University Health

Learn more about brain and spine care at University Health in San Antonio.

Subscribe icon
Get health living and wellness information, recipes, and patient stories from University Health.
View other related content by:

Tell us your patient story

Share your inspiring personal story of hope and healing at University Health.