How to Test If You Have a Concussion

young Caucasian woman grabs head with fear of concussion

July 14, 2021

Clinical Contributors to this story:
Christine Greiss, D.O.

It’s not just athletes who get concussions, says Christine Greiss, D.O., director of the Concussion Program at JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falls and automobile accidents are common causes of concussions.

“You don’t necessarily have to hit your head to experience concussion,” Dr. Greiss says. “The concussion itself is when the brain oscillates inside the skull very quickly during a rapid, jerky movement.”

Unlike an athlete, there’s no team doctor or trainer on the sidelines at your home to assess you after you trip over the vacuum cleaner cord and face-plant into the floor. So what tests can you do at home to tell if you or someone in your home has a concussion?

Look for:

  • Changes in day-to-day functioning
  • Eye pain and/or eye fatigue
  • Headache
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Neck pain or stiffness
  • Imbalance, dropping things, bumping into things
  • Impaired depth perception (having difficulty seeing the distance between two items)
  • Difficulty remembering things

Any of these symptoms may be a cause for concern, Dr. Greiss says. Above all, if you don’t feel “right,” get checked out. “The earlier you seek treatment, the better,” she says.

How Doctors Test for Concussions

If you seek medical care, your doctor will do a concussion assessment that consists of:

  • Balance test: standing with feet together, eyes closed; standing with one foot in front of the other, eyes closed; and standing on one leg with eyes closed.
  • Cognitive evaluation: checking to see if you know where you are and understand why you’re there; ability to name things; verbal fluency; recall and working memory.
  • Visual test: the ability of the eyes to track objects moving back and forth and to move inward together.

Additional testing may include brain imaging, such as a CT scan.

A mild concussion isn’t likely to have long-term effects, Dr. Griess says, unless there are underlying neurodegenerative issues, such as a history of strokes or repeated brain injury. But it still makes sense to see your doctor sooner rather than later because the concussion assessment will allow your doctor to give you a treatment plan tailored to your injury. And that will put your brain on the road to recovery more quickly and safely, she says.

Next Steps & Resources

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.

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