It can happen to anyone.
You get in a fender bender, you get hit during a sporting event, or maybe your friend accidentally smacks you in the head during a crazy jam session. However it occurred, your bell got wrung pretty good and now you are starting to feel different: you are dizzy, you have a massive headache, any slight sound rings your ears, sunlight can be blinding, you may have even blacked out or feel a bit nauseous. These are all the symptoms of a concussion.
According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), a concussion is a form of traumatic brain injury in which a blow to the head or a hit to the body causes the brain to violently bump against the skull and damage brain cells resulting in chemical changes in the brain. Concussions are a tricky diagnosis because they can be minor or extremely serious. In either case, the individual who sustained the head injury must take precautions during recovery.
The thing about concussions is that they are different from other injuries. If someone breaks their arm or leg, a doctor will put on a cast and everyone can see that physical harm was done. With a concussion, the injury is to a part of the body that is still being researched and discovered so the negative physiological, psychological and cognitive symptoms are difficult to diagnose and difficult to explain. In fact, for all of the research done and scientific advances concerning the brain, there is still no test that can definitively determine that someone has sustained a concussion or when they can return to the field.
Although often times there are no outward signs of head trauma *(cracked skull, bleeding, etc.), there are physiological symptoms of a concussion because it is caused by physical trauma: headaches/migraines, sensitivity to light and noise, nausea, balance problem, slow reaction timesetc. The best way to explain the overall physiological symptoms of a concussion is the feeling of being perpetually hungover. The type of symptoms that are often overlooked during concussions are the psychological symptoms.
Traumatic brain injuries can actually alter chemical reactions in the brain causing neurotransmitters like cortisol and norepinephrine (the fight or flight / stress hormones) and serotonin (the happy hormone) to go haywire and inhibit brain functioning. When our neurotransmitters are not working properly it is very difficult to function and let the brain heal itself.
Psychological aspects of a concussion are not something to be overlooked or laughed at because "it was just a bump to the head." They can be crippling, debilitating, and confusing for an individual. Psychological symptoms of a concussion can include depressive symptoms, unprovoked anxiety and panic attacks, confusion, unexplainable anger or aggression, memory loss, just "feeling different," sleep difficulties, and many more. These are the symptoms that can linger for days, weeks, even months, and affect the individual in confusing and crippling ways.
The psychology of a concussion is the unknown and concealed symptoms that are difficult to diagnose and explain. How do you know if you're just "feeling different" or if something is really wrong? This is the nagging question those who have had one or several concussions have encountered during their recovery. Dealing with confusion, memory loss, light and sound sensitivity, and the inability to participate in everyday activities can have an unmeasurable affect for someone who is just trying to get back to normal functioning.
One important aspect of the psychological symptoms of a concussion you may not know about is called PCS, or Post-concussion Syndrome. PCS occurs when concussion symptoms persist for more than 10-14 days after the initial diagnosis. PCS affects about 10%-20% of athletes who sustained at least one concussion.
Concussions are difficult to diagnose, treat, and manage. They can be debilitating for many individuals. They take you out of work, out of school and for athletes, out of the game. While the physiological symptoms of a concussion are often primarily treated, the psychological symptoms are the hidden killer and should not be overlooked.
Stay tuned for an upcoming article discussing concussions in sports and why we cannot overlook Post-concussion Syndrome.