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Minor brain injury

A brief period of unconsciousness, or just feeling sick and dizzy, may result from a person banging their head getting into the car, walking into the top of a low door way, or slipping over in the street. It is estimated that 75-80% of all head injuries fall into this category.

This page explains the effects of a minor brain injury, which is also known as a minor head injury, concussion or post-concussion syndrome.

Returning home

On returning home it is important that, if possible, you are accompanied by a responsible adult. While unlikely, there is a small risk of developing complications, so if you experience any of the following symptoms in the next few days you should return to A&E as soon as possible:

  • Loss of consciousness Increasing disorientation
  • New deafness in one or both ears Problems understanding or speaking
  • Loss of balance or problems walking Blurred or double vision
  • Any weakness in one or both arms or legs Inability to be woken
  • Any vomiting Bleeding from one or both ears
  • Clear fluid coming out of your ears or nose Any fits (collapsing or passing out suddenly)
  • Drowsiness when you would normally be wide awake Severe headache not relieved by painkillers such as paracetamol

Dos and Don'ts

  • DO make sure you stay within reach of a telephone and medical help in the next few days
  • DO have plenty of rest and avoid stressful situations
  • DO show this information to a friend or family member who can keep an eye on your condition
  • DO take painkillers such as paracetamol for headaches
  • DON'T stay at home alone for 48 hours after leaving hospital
  • DON'T drink alcohol until you feel better
  • DON'T take aspirin or sleeping tablets without consulting a doctor
  • DON'T return to work until you feel ready
  • DON'T play any contact sport for at least three weeks without consulting your doctor
  • DON'T return to driving until you feel you have recovered. If in doubt consult your doctor.

Post-concussion syndrome

The effects of a minor head injury can be anything but minor to the person concerned. They can include nausea, headaches, dizziness, impaired concentration, memory problems, extreme tiredness, intolerance to light and noise, and can lead to anxiety and depression. When problems like this persist, they are often called post-concussion syndrome.

Symptoms of post-concussion syndrome include:

  • Headaches Irritability
  • Feelings of dizziness Restlessness
  • Nausea Impulsivity and self-control problems
  • Sensitivity to light Difficulties with concentration
  • Sensitivity to noise Feeling depressed, tearful, anxious
  • Sleep disturbance Fatigue
  • Memory problems Difficulties thinking and problem-solving

In most cases the symptoms of post-concussion syndrome will resolve themselves within two weeks. However, in some cases they may persist much longer. Try not to rush back into normal activities as this may delay recovery. If you still have any symptoms of concussion after two weeks we suggest you see your GP. It may be possible to seek referral to a head injury specialist such as a neurologist or neuropsychologist.

A common problem is that either no scans were done at the time of the accident, or subsequent scans show no damage. This frequently gives rise to the impression that there is nothing medically wrong. The persistent problems of post-concussion syndrome can be misunderstood by GPs, sometimes being considered as almost hypochondria on the part of the patient. In some cases where the symptoms of concussion persist for months a psychological element such as depression can come into play. While this may make existing conditions even more difficult to live with, it is not on the whole true or helpful to say that 'it is all in the mind'. A second opinion should be sought from a neurologist or neuropsychologist.

Practical issues

It is important that relatives and employers are warned about the possible effects of a minor head injury, and for plans to be made accordingly. These might include not rushing to return to work, keeping stress to a minimum in the short term, and abstaining from alcohol. One study showed that almost one third of people with a minor head injury were not working full-time three months after receiving the injury, although other studies have been much more optimistic. Difficulties are certainly made much worse if the person has a mentally demanding job where there is a low margin for error.
Recovery and further information

The general conclusion seems to be that the vast majority of people who experience a minor head injury make a full recovery, usually after 3-4 months. However there is a very small sub-group whose recovery is not so good.