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Would you know if you had a concussion?

Jul 27, 2017

Everyone from athletes to parents to coaches to the elderly should be aware of the symptoms of a concussion

A recent study of 288 high school athletes revealed students are knowledgeable about concussion symptoms, but male student athletes are less likely to report concussions for fear of seeming weak.

The report in the Journal of Athletic Training additionally found boys don’t report concussion symptoms in order to not make coaches and other teammates mad and to avoid losing playing time. 

Dr. John Rowlett

Dr. John Rowlett, director of pediatric emergency medicine at St. Joseph’s/Candler, treats concussions and head injuries regularly. Rowlett acknowledges the report’s findings, and adds that although males are more likely to mask concussion symptoms, concussions and traumatic brain injuries can occur in any gender and any age at any time.

“The important thing about this study is that kids don’t want to be perceived as weak,” Dr. Rowlett says. “We went through a period of time when kids would hit their head and coaches would say, ‘Shake it off,’ and you’d get up and go back on the field. There are some types of injuries that it’s OK to do that, but not when it’s your head.”

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head or a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth. Structurally, the brain is normal, Dr. Rowlett says, because there is no bleeding or fracture when a concussion occurs. However, a sudden movement that causes the brain to bounce or twist in the skull can create chemical changes in the brain and damage brain cells.

Concussions should be taken very seriously and never ignored. The long-term effects of concussions, especially multiple concussions, affect thinking, memory, learning, coordination and balance, speech, hearing, vision and emotions. Some severe cases can lead to blood clots in the brain, death or suicide.

“There’s a toll to too many concussions. The brain can only take so many of these,” Dr. Rowlett says. “The problem is we don’t know how many or how bad they are going to be.”

There are more than three million concussions diagnosed every year. Even more so, concussions are easily undiagnosed. People have concussions all the time and don’t know it, Dr. Rowlett says. The best detection for a concussion is the symptoms. Symptoms include headache, confusion, lack of coordination, memory loss, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, ringing in the ears and excessive fatigue.

There is no specific cure for a concussion. The best treatment is rest, Dr. Rowlett advises.

When you are talking about concussions, one of the most important things you can discuss is prevention. Dr. Rowlett recommends always wearing proper head gear, including helmets for athletes, bike riders and boxers.

Dr. Rowlett also encourages both male and female student athletes and coaches to be more proactive regarding concussions and head injuries.

“The excuse of coming across as weak – we have to do better in changing that perception,” Dr. Rowlett says. “In reality, you are letting your teammates down if you are playing without your full focus. You risk hurting yourself or someone else. When you hit your head, if things aren’t right, you need to pull yourself out of the game or a friend needs to say something to a coach.

“There are things you can be tough about, but getting hit in the head is not one of them.”

Concussions, head injuries can happen to anyone, at any age

Dr. Rowlett says head injuries and concussions are very common, and not just in student athletes. In fact, he says the majority of head injuries treated in St. Joseph’s Hospital and Candler Hospital emergency departments are elderly patients who have fallen.

“We see children and adults who hit their head every single day,” Dr. Rowlett says. “Sometimes it’s from playing sports. Sometimes it’s from riding bicycles. Sometimes it’s from falling down. It’s a gravity fight and the head loses.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, traumatic brain injuries were diagnosed in 2.5 million patients who visited U.S. emergency departments in 2013. Over the span of six years leading up to 2013,TBI-related emergency department visits increased by 47%. Falls account for about half of all TBI-related ED visits, the CDC states.

Dr. Rowlett encourages anyone who feels they may be experiencing the symptoms of a concussion to immediately see a doctor or to go the emergency department.

“Even if the CAT scan is normal, ask yourself, ‘Do I have a concussion?’” Dr. Rowlett advises. “You don’t have a fracture, you don’t have any bleeding, but if you can’t remember things, are having trouble focusing or are feeling dizziness – these are signs that the brain is not firing on all cylinders.”


To learn more about concussions and the CDC’s HEADS UP program, visit their website


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