What To Do If You Suspect a Concussion During Sports

Here's what to do if you suspect a concussion or head injury

Concussions are common in sports.
Concussions are common in sports. Pete Norton/Getty Images

Any athlete can wind up with a head injury such as a concussion. A fall, a collision or a blow to the head can result in a minor headache or a major head trauma. But because it's difficult to determine the severity of any head injury without a medical evaluation, it's important to obtain medical treatment for any head injury.

Head Injury Symptoms May Be Delayed

Any blow to the head during sports--even those that appear minor--can result in a serious head injury, particularly if the athlete continues playing sports. In fact, it's not uncommon for the warning signs or symptoms of a head injury to be delayed for several hours or even days after the initial head trauma. In some cases, delaying head injury treatment can have serious, and even life-threatening consequences.

If you suspect a head injury in yourself or someone you're with, even if you don't see any significant signs or symptoms, be safe, and follow these head injury treatment guidelines.

Suspected Head Injury - Symptoms and Treatment Guidelines

  1. Stop Playing
    1. The first treatment step for anyone with a head injury is to stop playing the sport and rest. Get off the field and take some time to assess the situation and get appropriate care. No game is worth taking the risk of a permanent disability or even a life-threatening medical emergency.
  2. Seek Immediate Medical Attention
    1. If the person who suffered the head injury loses consciousness, shows signs of confusion, has nausea, bleeding, drowsiness or other unusual behavior or head injury symptoms, call 911 immediately. They will need medical assessment, stabilization and transport that you can't provide if you were to just drive them to an emergency room.
  3. Perform Necessary First Aid
    1. If the person shows any of the above signs of a serious head injury, get immediate assistance and perform any necessary first aid while awaiting emergency help.
  4. If Unsure, Go to the ER
    1. If you aren't sure how serious the head injury is, get it checked out at a trauma center or emergency room. A head CT scan may be used to diagnose bleeding in the brain.
  1. Watch For a Sudden or Dramatic Change in Symptoms, Behavior or Comprehension
    1. Any sudden change in the level of symptoms -- such as a mild headache that suddenly becomes intense, sudden dizziness, a sudden increase in drowsiness, etc. -- requires immediate medical attention. Be sure that the injured person has someone with them at all times for the next 24 hours to look for these signs.
  2. Watch For Delayed Head Injury Symptoms
    1. Even if you don't have obvious signs of a head injury, you should be alert to any symptoms that appear within hours or even a few days of a head trauma. If you notice any delayed symptoms such as a headache, dizziness, vomiting, confusion or loss of coordination, seek medical attention immediately.
  3. Pay Close Attention to Head Injuries in Children, the Elderly, or Anyone on Blood Thinners
    1. Because blood thinners (such as warfarin) can increase bleeding during injuries, what might otherwise be a mild head injury can develop a major bleed if a person is taking blood thinners.
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    Article Sources
    • Consensus Statement on Concussion in Sport: the 3rd International Conference on Concussion in Sport held in Zurich, November 2008.
    • Heegaard WG, Biros MH. Head. In: Marx J. Rosens Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 6th ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby; 2006: chap. 38.
    • University of Pittsburgh, Brain Trauma Research.