how to tell if you have a concussion
Healthy Living

How to Tell If You Have a Concussion: Understanding Diagnosis and Treatment

Sep 29 2023

Concussions, often regarded as traumatic brain injuries, are a matter of growing concern, affecting a broad spectrum of individuals beyond sports enthusiasts. Recent studies have illuminated the prevalence of brain-related issues arising from head trauma, making it imperative to know how to tell if you have a concussion and understand the necessary steps for diagnosis and treatment.

Let’s explore the physiological impacts of concussions, standard diagnostic tests and the essential steps involved in concussion treatment. It’s imperative to address concussions with the seriousness they deserve to prevent long-term neurological damage.

The physiological impacts of concussions

To comprehend the significance of diagnosing and treating concussions, it’s essential to understand the physiological effects of these injuries on the brain. Stacey Hoffman, MD, a Mercy Health physical medicine and rehabilitation expert in our Toledo market, provides insight into the internal consequences of concussions.

“The brain sits inside the skull surrounded and cushioned by cerebrospinal fluid. When the head takes a hard hit or is violently jostled, the brain can move back and forth. It may hit the skull, causing a bruise, or contusion, to the brain. It may also sustain enough force that there is an injury to the brain without striking the skull,” Dr. Hoffman explains. “This may mechanically stretch nerve fibers abnormally, triggering a chemical reaction in the brain at a cellular level.”

This highlights the severity of concussions. The brain’s delicate structure can be seriously compromised when subjected to sudden impacts or jolts, leading to potential long-term consequences if not managed appropriately.

How to tell if you have a concussion: Standard tests for diagnosis

Diagnosing a concussion is a critical step in ensuring the well-being of individuals who have suffered head injuries. Several standard tests and procedures are employed to evaluate and diagnose concussions effectively.

Baseline testing

Especially recommended for athletes, baseline testing utilizes a computer-based program, ImPACT, which administers neuropsychological assessments. It establishes a pre-injury reference point for an athlete’s cognitive function. If a concussion occurs, the test is repeated, and results are compared to the baseline to gauge the severity of the injury.

Dr. Hoffman emphasizes its importance: “By comparing new results against the baseline, physicians can predict recovery time, make appropriate treatment recommendations and monitor recovery.”


Anyone – whether it’s coaches, trainers or individuals – can administer this test by observing common physical symptoms associated with concussions. These signs and symptoms may include headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, nausea, memory impairment, balance issues, sensitivity to light, unequal pupil sizes, slurred speech, drowsiness and brief loss of consciousness following an injury. Additionally, abnormal moods or sudden emotional changes can serve as potential indicators of a concussion. If you or someone you know experiences any of these symptoms, it is imperative to seek consultation right away.

Cognitive testing

Assessing cognitive abilities involves evaluating memory, concentration and information recall, providing insight into the concussion’s impact on thinking skills.

Neurological assessment

In a neurological assessment, a doctor checks the athlete for difficulties with balance, coordination, reflexes, touch, hearing and vision. This examination helps identify any neurological deficits resulting from the head injury.

Brain imaging

Brain imaging is reserved for cases with severe or persistent symptoms. There are two common instruments used for brain imaging: magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and cranial computerized tomography (CT) scans. MRIs utilize magnets and radio waves to create detailed images of the brain, while CT scans use X-rays to construct snapshots of both the brain and skull. There does not have to be an abnormal finding on an image for someone to have a concussion. Most concussions, also referred to as mild traumatic brain injuries, have normal diagnostic studies.

Electroencephalogram (EEG)

In some cases, an EEG may be used as an electrical impulse test. Wired electrodes are attached to the athlete’s scalp, and the electrodes send brain signals to a computer. The computer then records the brain wave frequencies on a graph, appearing as tiny zigzags. This test helps assess electrical activity in the brain.

Treating concussions

Once you understand how to tell if you have a concussion, effective treatment is crucial for minimizing the potential long-term consequences of these injuries – a condition often referred to as post-concussive syndrome.

“The good news is that the ill effects of concussion will resolve in most people if the injury is managed appropriately. Physicians are now focusing on what is called relative rest after injury. Both physical and mental rest may be recommended treatment for concussions early on,” Dr. Hoffman advises. “An individual diagnosed with a concussion should avoid physical exertion and decrease mental concentration by limiting sensory input if these activities worsen their symptoms. This can include refraining from using computers, texting, watching TV and playing video games.”

Concussion recovery may involve a period of rest to allow the brain to heal. It’s essential for athletes and individuals with concussions to follow their health care provider’s recommendations diligently. This includes refraining from physical activities and mentally taxing tasks that could exacerbate symptoms.

It’s also very important to maintain a regular sleep/wake cycle. Your physician and treatment team will create a graduated return to activity or return to play treatment plan that will help you return to sports or work as soon as possible.

Concussion diagnostics and treatment are critical components of ensuring the well-being of athletes and individuals involved in activities that carry a risk of head injuries. Understanding the physiological impacts of concussions, standard diagnostic tests and the importance of proper treatment is essential for timely intervention.

Getting care early

In light of recent studies highlighting the prevalence of neurological issues among athletes, it’s evident that understanding how to tell if you have a concussion is important for early diagnosis and appropriate management. By taking concussions seriously and seeking medical attention when needed, we can protect our brain health and ensure a safe and healthy return to sports and other activities.

Learn more about concussions as well as the rehabilitation and physical therapy services we provide at Mercy Health.

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