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Concussion Tests

What are concussion tests?

Concussion tests can help find out if you or your child has suffered a concussion. A concussion is a type of brain injury caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head. Young children are at a higher risk of concussions because they are more active and because their brains are still developing.

Concussions are often described as mild traumatic brain injuries. When you get a concussion, your brain shakes or bounces inside your skull. It causes chemical changes in the brain and affects brain function. After a concussion, you may have headaches, mood changes, and problems with memory and concentration. The effects are usually temporary, and most people make a full recovery after treatment. The main treatment for a concussion is rest, both physical and mental. Left untreated, a concussion can cause long-term brain damage.

Other names: concussion assessment

What are they used for?

Concussion tests are used to assess brain function after a head injury. A type of concussion test, called a baseline test, is often used for athletes who play contact sports, a common cause of concussion. A baseline concussion test is used on non-injured athletes before the start of a sports season. It measures normal brain function. If a player gets injured, the baseline results are compared with the concussion tests performed after the injury. This helps the health care provider see if the concussion has caused any problems with brain function.

Why do I need concussion testing?

You or your child may need concussion testing after a head injury, even if you think the injury is not serious. Most people don’t lose consciousness from a concussion. Some people get concussions and don’t even know it. It’s important to watch for concussion symptoms so you or your child can get treated promptly. Early treatment can help you recover faster and prevent further injury.

Concussion symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Mood changes
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory problems

Some of these concussion symptoms show up right away. Others may not show up for weeks or months after the injury.

Certain symptoms may mean a more serious brain injury than a concussion. Call 911 or seek immediate medical attention if you or your child has any of the following symptoms:

  • Inability to be woken up after injury
  • Severe headache
  • Seizures
  • Slurred speech
  • Excessive vomiting
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What happens during concussion testing?

Testing usually includes questions about concussion symptoms and a physical exam. You or your child may also be checked for changes in:

  • Vision
  • Hearing
  • Balance
  • Coordination
  • Reflexes
  • Memory
  • Concentration

Athletes may get concussion baseline testing before the start of a season. A baseline concussion test usually involves taking an online questionnaire. The questionnaire measures attention, memory, speed of answers, and other abilities.

Testing sometimes includes one of the following types of imaging tests:

  • CT (computerized tomography) scan, a type of x-ray that takes a series of pictures as it rotates around you
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), which uses powerful magnets and radio waves to create an image. It does not use radiation.

In the near future, a blood test may also be used to help diagnose a concussion. The FDA recently approved a test, called the Brain Trauma Indicator, for adults with concussions. The test measures certain proteins that are released into the bloodstream within 12 hours of a head injury. The test may be able to show how serious the injury is. Your provider may use the test to decide whether or not you need a CT scan.

Will I need to do anything to prepare for a concussion test?

You don’t need any special preparations for concussion testing.

Are there any risks to the tests?

There is little risk of having concussion testing. CT scans and MRIs are painless but can be a little uncomfortable. Some people feel claustrophobic in an MRI scanning machine.

What do the results mean?

If your results show that you or your child has a concussion, rest will be the first and most important step in your recovery. This includes getting plenty of sleep and not doing any strenuous activities.

You’ll also need to rest your mind too. This is known as cognitive rest. It means limiting schoolwork or other mentally challenging activities, watching TV, using the computer, and reading. As your symptoms improve, you can gradually increase your level of physical and mental activities. Talk to your health care provider or your child’s provider for specific recommendations. Taking enough time to recover can help ensure a full recovery.

For athletes, there may be specified steps, called a concussion protocol, that are recommended in addition to the steps listed above. These include:

  • Not returning to the sport for seven or more days
  • Working with coaches, trainers, and medical professionals to assess the athlete’s condition
  • Comparing baseline and after-injury concussion results
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Is there anything else I need to know about concussion testing?

There are steps you can take to prevent concussions. These include:

  • Wearing helmets while biking, skiing, and doing other sports
  • Regularly checking sports equipment for proper fit and function
  • Wearing seatbelts
  • Keeping the home safe with well-lit rooms and removing objects from floors that might cause someone to trip. Falls in the home are a leading cause of head injury.

Preventing concussions is important for everyone, but it’s especially crucial for people who have had a concussion in the past. Having a second concussion close to the time of the first injury can cause additional health problems and lengthen recovery time. Having more than one concussion in your lifetime may also cause some long-term health problems.


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