What are Concussion Tests & What is it Used For?

A concussion can be a resultant of an injury to the head caused by high impact sports, falls, and even accidents. Concussions are usually known to be mild injuries, but they can sometimes cause severe complications, including spinal injuries, impaired motor skills and even loss of consciousness. The symptoms of a concussion vary from person to person, and as a result, your doctor is likely to order certain tests to determine whether you have a concussion. It is also possible to conduct these tests on your own at home while waiting for medical help. Here’s everything you need to know about how, when, and why are concussion tests used.

What are Concussion Tests?

You get a concussion because your brain bounces around or shakes rapidly inside your skull. This can lead to chemical changes in the brain and also impact the proper functioning of the brain.(1) Due to this, it is common to experience headaches, mood swings, and other problems associated with concentration and memory after a concussion. While most of these effects are mild and temporary, and most people go on to make a full recovery after a concussion, but a doctor must check a concussion. If left untreated, a concussion can even cause long-term brain damage.(2)

Doctors order many types of concussion tests if they suspect that an injury to the head or an accident might have caused a concussion.

Concussion tests are different from other mainstream diagnostic tests.(3) These tests comprise of a series of questions that rate the symptoms you are experiencing after having experienced a head injury. There are many online questionnaires that are available, and you will be asked to rate the severity of your symptoms of concussion.(4) Some of the symptoms that you will be asked to rate include:

  • Any visual changes
  • Sensitivity to noise or light
  • Headaches
  • Balance issues or dizziness
  • Low energy levels
  • Numbness
  • Sleep issues
  • Sadness or irritability
  • Mental fog
  • Concentration and memory issues
  • Low energy levels

If you are involved in high impact sports, then sports medicine professionals are likely to use more detailed checklists to determine the extent of injury in athletes. The most commonly used test is known as the post-concussion symptom scale (PCSS).(5)

The post-concussion symptom scale is similar to online checklists and ranks the possible symptoms of concussion. Remember that if you suspect that you might have experienced a concussion, then it is best to see a doctor at the earliest. Your doctor will evaluate your symptoms and order any medical tests if required to take a closer look at your brain and spine. Some of these medical tests that your doctor may order include:

  • A complete physical exam
  • An MRI scan
  • X-ray
  • A CT scan
  • An electroencephalogram (EEG) test that is used for brain wave monitoring(6)

What are Concussion Tests Used For?

Concussion tests are used for evaluating brain function after experiencing a head injury. For athletes who play contact or impact sports, a concussion test known as the baseline test is used since impact sports are a common cause of concussion.

A baseline concussion test is also used on uninjured athletes before the sports season begins. It is used to measure normal brain functioning before the season starts. If any player gets injured, then the previous baseline results are compared with the concussion tests that are performed after the injury.(7)

Having a starting baseline test handy also helps doctors check if the concussion has caused any problems with your brain function.(8)

Some people may exhibit the following symptoms during a concussion:

  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Balance and coordination issues
  • Changes to your vision
  • Physical changes to the eyes such as pupil size and movement
  • Headache
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Fluid loss from the ears or nose
  • Forgetting what has happened
  • Seizures in severe cases

It is also possible for babies and younger children to get concussions. In such cases, they may exhibit the following signs and symptoms of a concussion:

  • Vomiting
  • Irritability
  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Reduced activity level
  • Fluid loss from the nose or ears

You may also want to consider getting a concussion test done in the following circumstances:

  • If you or someone you know has had a severe accident or fall
  • If you are injured in a high-impact sport such as boxing, football, or soccer
  • If you have been in a biking accident
  • If you sustain whiplash in a vehicle accident

Concussion tests are especially useful to doctors for determining the next steps. For example, if someone you know is having difficulty in walking and exhibiting confusion or visual changes after a fall, then they will need to be taken to the doctor for further tests.

Loss of consciousness, comas, and injuries to the neck or back are serious and may require urgent medical assistance.

When Should You See A Doctor?

If you suspect that you or someone you know has suffered a concussion, then it is essential to consult a doctor to rule out any form of serious brain injury or damage.

Babies who receive injuries to their head should be checked by a pediatrician. If the baby becomes unconscious, then you should take them to the hospital immediately.

In case of a coma, you should call the emergency medical number in your area and seek urgent medical help.

Emergency medical assistance may also be required if the concussion is accompanied by a spinal or neck injury. In such cases, it is essential that you do not attempt to move the injured person’s neck or back. Call for an ambulance instead so that the person can be moved in an appropriate manner.

Conclusion

It is also possible to carry out concussion tests by yourself at home so that you can get more insight into whether you or a loved one has suffered a concussion. A concussion test is especially important after you have had an accident, a fall, or a direct injury to the head, neck, or back.

It is essential to consult a doctor after a concussion, even if your symptoms are mild. Your doctor will run imaging tests to ensure that there is no serious injury to the brain. They will also rule or spinal injury and damage.

Seek emergency medical help if someone goes into a coma or suffers serious back or neck injury, even in a sporting event.

References:

  1. Gronwall, D. and Wrightson, P., 1975. Cumulative effect of concussion. The Lancet, 306(7943), pp.995-997.
  2. Ommaya, A.K., Faas, F. and Yarnell, P., 1968. Whiplash injury and brain damage: an experimental study. Jama, 204(4), pp.285-289.
  3. Ventura, R.E., Jancuska, J.M., Balcer, L.J. and Galetta, S.L., 2015. Diagnostic tests for concussion: is vision part of the puzzle?. Journal of Neuro-ophthalmology, 35(1), pp.73-81.
  4. Broglio, S.P., Ferrara, M.S., Macciocchi, S.N., Baumgartner, T.A. and Elliott, R., 2007. Test-retest reliability of computerized concussion assessment programs. Journal of athletic training, 42(4), p.509.
  5. Dziemianowicz, M.S., Kirschen, M.P., Pukenas, B.A., Laudano, E., Balcer, L.J. and Galetta, S.L., 2012. Sports-related concussion testing. Current neurology and neuroscience reports, 12(5), pp.547-559.
  6. Slobounov, S., Cao, C. and Sebastianelli, W., 2009. Differential effect of first versus second concussive episodes on wavelet information quality of EEG. Clinical Neurophysiology, 120(5), pp.862-867.
  7. Randolph, C., 2011. Baseline neuropsychological testing in managing sport-related concussion: does it modify risk?. Current sports medicine reports, 10(1), pp.21-26.
  8. McCrea, M., 2001. Standardized mental status testing on the sideline after sport-related concussion. Journal of athletic training, 36(3), p.274.

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