Recently, I finished a book that included the following medical scenario. The main character fell into a river and suffered a broken arm and concussion. During her ER visit, the doctor tells her she needs to be admitted overnight for observation because of the concussion.
This is a common medical myth (along with the one that a CT scan is required in all instances of head injury– it’s not.)
A simple concussion does not need an overnight hospital stay. Let me qualify what I mean by simple. You receive a hit on the head and have one or some of the following global symptoms (dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting, and amnesia to the events.) Global symptoms mean more than just the bump on your head hurts.
This is really how concussion is diagnosed. CT scan is reserved for concerns of bleeding and/or fracture that might require a neurosurgical intervention. Typically, symptoms associated with bleeding and fracture are persistent and more dramatic. Headache pain is not relieved with medication and/or worsens. There is more than one episode of vomiting. Persistent confusion. Perseverating– saying the same thing over and over. Inability to move part of the body. Decreased responsiveness. Amnesia that doesn’t improve.
A patient with a simple concussion is monitored in the ER for several hours. Typically, we’ll give them medication based on their symptoms to see if they improve. For instance, a patient that has nausea, headache and dizziness will get an anti-nausea medication and an over-the-counter pain reliever like Tylenol or Ibuprofen. If their symptoms improve and/or resolve and they can hold something down to eat then they are discharged home with instructions on when to return to the ER.
In order to be admitted into the hospital the patient must exhibit severe, persistent symptomology and/or have bleeding and/or fracture.
In absence of these, the patient will be discharged home.