Q&A About Concussion Symptoms

Matthew Grady, MD, and Christina Master, MD, concussion experts from The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, answer frequently asked questions about concussion symptoms, like "How do I know if I have a concussion?" and "When should I really be concerned as a parent?"


Q&A About Concussion Symptoms

Student athlete: How do I know if I have a concussion?

Matthew Grady, MD: Unfortunately, we know that concussions occur more in the pediatric and adolescent population than in any other population. A concussion occurs when there's a hit to the head followed by a disturbance in the way the brain works. So if your child sustains a concussion, it's important that they rest and see a medical care provider.

Parent: So what are the signs of a concussion, and when should I really be concerned?

Matthew Grady, MD: So I say a concussion is like a snowflake. No two are the same.

Christina L. Master, MD: It's important for the physician to pull the entire story together with the injury, the symptoms that developed after the injury, and then their physical exam and how your child looks right now. Only 10 to 20 percent of concussions result in loss of consciousness. So if you lose consciousness, you probably have a concussion. But even if you don't lose consciousness, you may still have a concussion.

Matthew Grady, MD: Symptoms of a concussion include physical symptoms such as headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, total body being tired, like fatigue -- also, cognitive symptoms such as difficulty remembering, difficulty concentrating, or feeling mentally foggy. Emotional symptoms are common in a small percentage of concussions, and these can include nervousness, anxiety or perseveration.

Christina L. Master, MD: It's important to watch your child the first few hours after an injury to make sure they're not getting sufficiently worse that it would make you warrant a visit to the emergency room.

Matthew Grady, MD: So if the child has sustained a head injury, and we're unclear if there's been a concussion or not, then a parent should contact their primary care doctor and review the symptoms of concussion. In a small subset of head injuries, they may have symptoms that are more than what we would consider a concussion, and those probably require urgent medical evaluation, either 911 or an emergency room. Those symptoms would include slurred speech, persistent vomiting, mental confusion, and symptoms that are getting worse with time. By recognizing the signs of concussion early in the process, we can start care, which is rest. This usually leads to better long-term outcomes, and so early recognition of concussion helps with recovery.

Topics Covered: Concussion

Related Centers and Programs: Minds Matter Concussion Program