What is a complex concussion, and how fast do you recover?


Concussions are the most common type of traumatic brain injury.

Picture your brain as a bowl of Jell-O. When you suffer a blow to the head or your head is jolted by some other sudden movement, your brain slides and twists inside the skull, just like Jell-O would inside a bowl. If the force is strong enough, it can lead to a concussion.

Concussions are the most common type of traumatic brain injury. They have gotten a lot more attention in recent years, mainly because of attention being paid to professional and college football players. Our researchers have participated in a landmark study that illustrated some of the long-term effects of concussions from sporting activities.

The truth is, anyone can suffer a concussion, whether they are on the soccer field, driving a car, or going down a staircase.

The vast majority of concussions are considered mild. In mild concussions, the symptoms improve quickly – sometimes in just a couple of hours. But some people, especially those who have had concussions before, can suffer complex concussions that can lead to long-term problems and require medical attention.

For example, because your brain controls your hormone levels, a complex concussion can affect your thyroid gland, sex hormones, and growth hormone. We’ve also had patients who have become diabetic after a head injury that affected their pituitary gland.

Signs of a complex concussion

The symptoms of a complex concussion are similar to those of a mild concussion, but recovery can take longer and there may be long-term health implications from these injuries. Some of the symptoms to watch for over hours, days, weeks, and even months include:
  • Persistent nausea or vomiting
  • Severe sluggishness, fatigue, and loss of energy
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Difficulty with balance and/or walking
  • Confusion or loss of memory
  • Difficulty with concentration or attention to detail
  • Irritability and low frustration tolerance
  • Personality changes
  • Dizziness or vision changes
  • Loss of hearing
  • Weakness in the arms or legs
See a doctor if you have suffered a blow to the head or have been in an accident and are experiencing these symptoms.

What happens when you suffer a concussion?

Most people believe you have to suffer a blow to the head to get a concussion. While that is the most common cause, it’s not the only one. Any incident that results in a sudden jolt or movement of your head – such as a car accident or a fall from a ladder – can cause damage.

These types of events can physically affect the brain:
  • Tearing or stretching of brain cells
  • Subsequent chemical changes in the brain
  • Swelling in the brain
  • Loss of effective neurotransmitter performance
  • Microscopic bleeding
  • Recovery from a concussion
We don’t know why some people are impacted more severely by concussions and recover differently. We also can’t predict it beforehand. Research is underway to try to find some of these answers.

In general, recovery from a concussion depends on the type of concussion one suffers and the number of previous concussions one’s had.

If you don’t take the appropriate measures as soon as you have a concussion, the symptoms can worsen. When we see patients with concussions, we recommend reducing brain stimulation for a period of time:
  • Rest in a quiet, dark environment
  • Reduce your physical activity
  • Reduce mental demands at work or school
In addition, we may prescribe medication, therapy, or a combination of treatments.

A gradual return to normal activities is recommended as the symptoms lessen. This is especially important for kids who are returning to school or adults who are returning to work. Dizzy spells, fatigue, and other issues can lead to failure in the work/school environment if the brain doesn’t have time to recover.

It’s not a good idea to diagnose and treat concussions yourself. The brain is a complex organ, and if the injury is not handled properly, a mild concussion can become a complex concussion. Repeated concussions can lead to a decline in cognitive performance, affecting your ability to learn, think, and live normally.

If you have suffered a blow to the head or another event that may have caused a concussion and are experiencing symptoms, request an appointment online or call 214-645-8300.