What Is Concussion?


Concussion, medically known as a minor traumatic brain injury, is a short-lived loss of mental function caused by a hit or blow to the head. Concussions can also be caused by an event that  causes your head and upper body to shake violently, such as a whiplash-type injury.

It is the most common but least serious type of brain injury, with most concussion symptoms resolving within 1-2 weeks of the head injury.1

Read on to learn more about the causes of concussions and the signs and symptoms you need to look out for. 

Causes of concussion

A concussion occurs when you experience a head injury. 

Our brains are cushioned in the skull by cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). However, when a head injury is experienced, it can cause our brains to hit the side of the skull, which can cause damage to brain tissues or for CSF to leak. This sort of injury can affect brain functioning. 

Common causes of concussion include: 

  • Falling over
  • Car accidents
  • Injured in a blast or explosion
  • Getting hit

Signs and symptoms of concussion

The signs and symptoms of concussion can be subtle and may not show up immediately. Symptoms usually improve over time and can last for days, weeks, or even longer.

Concussion symptoms  can affect how you think, act, sleep and feel.  

According to the NHS, symptoms of concussion include:2

  • Brief loss of consciousness after the head injury
  • Periods of memory loss- these types of memory loss usually improve within a few hours
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of balance
  • Disturbances in vision such as seeing stars or blurry vision
  • A period of confusion, a blank expression, or a delay in answering questions immediately after the head injury

If a doctor decides to carry out a brain scan during their investigation, a concussion is only diagnosed in the absence of any bleeding or swelling of the brain. 

Management and treatment for concussion

Most cases of concussion are not life-threatening and will resolve without medical attention, however, it is recommended that you seek out medical help, such as visiting your nearest A&E department if you or your child develop the following symptoms:2

  • Changes in your behaviour
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness that happens for longer than an hour when it would not usually occur
  • Prolonged vision problems
  • Clear liquid leaking from the nose or ears- this could possibly be CSF
  • Sudden deafness
  • If you are taking an anticoagulant medication such as warfarin, you should seek medical assistance immediately following a head injury
  • If you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you should seek medical attention as you may miss the signs of a more severe head injury

You should call 999 if you experience any of the following symptoms:2

Danger signs in adults

  • They remain unconscious after head injury
  • Bleeding from ears
  • Vomiting following your head injury
  • Experience a seizure
  • Headache that gets worse and doesn’t go away
  • Do not recognise people or places

Danger signs in children

  • Will not eat
  • Will not stop crying
  • Have any of the danger signs listed above for adults


The key to recovering from a concussion is taking it easy, this may mean  not participating in some of the activities you usually take part in without experiencing symptoms. For example, you may have to take some time off work or school.

When you start to feel better, try to return to regular non-strenuous activities such as a short walk.

If your symptoms don’t go away or get worse after you return to your regular activities, talk to your GP. 

Treatments can include:

  • Pain relief medication
  • Keeping hydrated. When concussed, you may experience nausea and vomiting, which can result in dehydration
  • Avoiding alcohol whilst you are recovering
  • Brain rest
  • Apply a cold compress
  • Rest!

Diagnosis of concussion

If you go to your GP suspecting concussion, they will evaluate your signs and symptoms as well as perform a neurological examination. They can perform tests that check your vision, hearing, balance, reflexes, memory, and ability to recall information.

If you are experiencing severe headaches, seizures, and repeated vomiting that have worsened over time, a doctor may perform brain imaging using a CT scan.

Risk factors

A head injury can affect anyone, however, certain factors can put you at an increased risk of getting a concussion, these include:2

  • Participating in a high-impact sport such as rugby
  • Being over 65 years of age
  • Suffering from brain injuries in the past
  • Taking anticoagulant medication such as warfarin
  • Having a condition that makes you bleed more easily
  • Falling in young children
  • Being a victim of physical abuse


If your concussion symptoms don’t subside after a few weeks and continue for months afterwards, you could be suffering from persistent  post-concussion syndrome. This is a poorly understood condition. However, current research does not point to a link between the severity of the injury and the persistence of symptoms.3

When head injuries that cause concussion occur repeatedly, it can have an impact on your long-term health. For example, it has been associated with a type of dementia known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). It is important to note that this condition only seems to be a significant risk for professional athletes, such as boxers who repeatedly experience a severe concussion, resulting in CTE being nicknamed boxer's brain. 


How can I prevent a concussion?

You can reduce your risk of developing a concussion following a head injury by taking some precautions. 

These precautions include: 

  • Wearing safety equipment whilst taking part in contact sports such as rugby
  • Wear a seatbelt
  • Wear a motorcycle helmet 
  • Wear a bicycle helmet

Many concussions occur in the elderly as a result of a fall in either their home or garden. Therefore it is recommended you take the following precautions to  prevent injury: 

  • Keep stairs free from obstacles so you don’t trip over
  • Make sure to use appropriate equipment whilst doing DIY
  • Clean up all spillages immediately

How soon do concussion symptoms appear?

If you or a loved one have had a head injury it is recommended that you are monitored for the following 48 hours. Not only is this important because of the impact concussion symptoms can have on both your own and other’s safety, but also because the symptoms of a concussion be signs of more serious conditions, including: 

Who are at risk  of concussion

Certain factors can make you more vulnerable to the effects of head injury. These include: 

  • Participating in a high-impact sport such as rugby
  • Being over 65 years of age
  • Suffering from brain injuries in the past
  • Taking anticoagulant medication such as warfarin
  • Having a condition that makes you bleed more easily
  • Falling in young children
  • Being a victim of physical abuse

How common is concussion

Concussion is the most common type of brain injury, however, it is the least serious type of brain injury and in most cases will not require medical attention.

When should I see a doctor

You should seek out medical attention if your symptoms last for more than 2 weeks


Concussion is a common health condition that  in most cases is not life-threatening. Some of the most common symptoms are nausea, headaches, vomiting, brief memory loss, and confusion. If your symptoms do not go away after 2 weeks it is recommended that you seek out medical attention from your GP. 


  1. Giza C, Greco T, Prins ML. Concussion: pathophysiology and clinical translation. Handb Clin Neurol. 2018;158:51–61.
  2. Concussion symptoms and treatment [Internet]. [cited 2023 Apr 10]. Available from: https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/injuries/head-and-neck-injuries/concussion
  3. Persistent post-concussive symptoms (Post-concussion syndrome) - Symptoms and causes [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. [cited 2023 Apr 10]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-concussion-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20353352
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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