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Concussion Detection

Dr. Andrew Tucker of Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore, MD, discusses how concussions are detected.

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Dr. Andrew Tucker: Hi! I am Dr. Andrew Tucker of Union Memorial Sports Medicine in MedStar Health and I would like to talk to you about how to detect if you have a concussion. There are a number of basic, things that a coach or a parent can do in order, to try to assess whether a concussion has occurred.

Number one is simply ask the patient whether they felt like they blacked out, if they were out temporarily. Secondly, ask them if they remember things around the time of the event, when the injury occurred. Ask them about, things that happened before the event. What's the score of the game? Who scored first? Who kicked off first? These are examples, of figuring out if the athlete's memory is intact.

And then, simply ask them about the most common symptoms and signs of concussion. Do you have a headache? How is your vision? Do you feel lightheaded or dizzy? Do you feel foggy or slow or just not yourself? A player does not have to lose consciousness to be diagnosed with a concussion.

In the world of sports medicine, far less than 10% of athletes that sustain a concussion actually lose consciousness. So it's a fairly uncommon in our world of medicine, for an athlete to have loss of consciousness. In the old days, a concussion was only diagnosed when a person did sustain a loss of consciousness; that has changed. If an athlete is knocked out for a prolonged period of time such as a minute or more almost, certainly the athlete should be transported to the hospital, because that is a very uncommon event.

Secondly, if any athlete has symptoms of a concussion and those symptoms are getting worse, such as a headache, it gets continuously worse rather than better, that athlete should be transported to the hospital. With most concussion, symptoms will occur immediately after the injury; seconds to minutes, the athlete will be experiencing the symptoms that we spoke about.

In uncommon cases, the symptoms and signs of concussions may actually occur many minutes to even an hour or two afterwards. It's very important for anybody who is suspected of having a possible concussion to be rechecked continuously either during that game, after the game or even at home.

If an athlete with a concussion is allowed to continue to play or they continue to play on their own and sustain another injury to the head or repeated blows to the head, there is significant increase in risk of the severity of the concussion and there's also a risk of a, very rare, but potentially lethal phenomenon called second impact syndrome, that can put that athlete's health at risk. So it is extremely important to be taken out of play, to prevent those significant possible complications.