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Concussion and Loss of Consciousness


WRITTEN BY: Sports Medicine
Saturday, April 11th, 2015

Some of the fear surrounding a concussion stem from common misconceptions and lack of information about the injury, the possibility of a complete recovery, and safe-return-to-play strategies. At UPMC, we want to dispel these myths with active, multidisciplinary approaches to care, a prolific research program, and evidence-based outcomes.

The Loss of Consciousness Myth

One common myth about a concussion is that it only occurs, or more often occurs, following loss of consciousness. The truth is that concussions occur with or without loss of consciousness. In fact, more than 90 percent of concussions are not accompanied by a loss of consciousness.

A related myth is that when there is a loss of consciousness, this indicates a more serious concussion and a lengthy recovery period. Our research shows that loss of consciousness is not directly correlated to a longer recovery, and may even be associated with a shorter one.

Our Concussion Research

At the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program, we are leaders in concussion research. In our 2011 study, Which On-field Signs/Symptoms Predict Protracted Recovery Times from Sports-Related Concussion Among High School Football Players?, we analyzed specific on-field signs and symptoms following sports-related concussions among a sample of high school football players in Western Pennsylvania.

RELATED: Can Concussions Impact Memory or Intelligence?

Concussion Symptoms

Because recovering from a concussion varies from person to person, our research team attempted to identify predictors of a longer recovery based on common symptoms. In this study, longer recoveries were considered to last 21 days or more, while rapid recoveries were those under one week. The concussion signs and symptoms analyzed included:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Confusion
  • Posttraumatic amnesia
  • Retrograde amnesia
  • Imbalance
  • Dizziness
  • Visual problems
  • Personality changes
  • Fatigue
  • Sensitivity to light/noise
  • Numbness
  • Vomiting

Our Findings

When compared with the other on-field signs and symptoms, a loss of consciousness less than one minute was less correlated to longer recovery times than other symptoms. Out of 107 study participants, only two reported loss of consciousness and experienced a longer recovery time. Thirty-four participants complaining of dizziness and 35 participants reporting headaches also experienced long recovery times.

These findings suggest that loss of conscious does not indicate a more severe injury or predict a longer recovery time.

RELATED: Tip Sheet: Concussion Signs and Symptoms Evaluation

Care for Your Concussion

At the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program, we take a multidisciplinary approach to treating concussions based on each individual’s symptoms. Whether a concussion includes loss of consciousness, our team of experts works to individualize care and to develop a treatment program to help every athlete, or non-athlete, eliminate their symptoms.

To learn more about our approach to treating concussions at the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program, visit rethinkconcussions.upmc.com to schedule an appointment with one of our experts, call 1-855-93-SPORT(77678).

Sports Medicine

UPMC Sports Medicine is the region’s largest and most experienced center dedicated to caring for athletes of all levels. For more than 25 years of world-class care, we’re proud to offer more services, have more physicians, and treat more student athletes than any other sports medicine provider in the region. Read More