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Major effects of not-so-minor injuries (Part 2): Concussions

Seemingly minor injuries can have significant ramifications for your overall health and quality of life. In part one of this series, we looked at how whiplash can cause chronic pain and limited mobility, especially if not properly diagnosed and treated. In part two, we'll examine another common injury with sometimes chronic effects: concussions.

How they happen

A concussion occurs when a blow to the head causes your brain to strike or ricochet off the inside of your skull. In auto accidents, your brain is still traveling at high speed when your skull comes to a sudden halt, resulting in an internal collision that can be devastating. Even a fender-bender can generate enough force to produce a concussion.

How they're diagnosed

Doctors can use various tools to determine whether you've suffered a concussion, including:

  • Neurological examinations to test your reflexes, vision, hearing and coordination
  • Cognitive tests to evaluate your memory and concentration
  • MRI or CT scans to identify bleeding or swelling on the brain

They will also take into account the details of your accident and any symptoms you may have.

How they can affect you

Concussions aren't always obvious. They don't always cause loss of consciousness, and the symptoms can be subtle at first. Look for warning signs such as:

  • Headache
  • Memory loss
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue

While these symptoms usually resolve within four to six weeks, in severe cases, they can be chronic. According to one study, 10 to 15 percent of concussion victims still experience symptoms a year later.

Even if you've fully recovered, concussions have a lingering impact on your health. A single concussion can increase your chances of anxiety, depression, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and secondary impact syndrome (swelling of the brain that's nearly always fatal). A history of multiple concussions further heightens these risks.

As you can see, even though concussions are considered a mild form of traumatic brain injury, they should nonetheless be taken seriously. Always seek medical attention after a car accident or other forceful impact that may have resulted in a concussion.

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