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Untreated Concussions: Risks and Complications

April 21, 2023

Classified as a mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI), a concussion is a medical condition known to cause an array of health issues regardless of severity. Concussions are common, with approximately 1.7 million to 3 million sports- and recreation-based concussions occurring in the U.S. annually.

Caused primarily by trauma to the head or the body, this medical condition arises when the brain twists and turns in the skull, resulting in chemical imbalances in the brain and damage to brain cells. 

This condition has many physical and cognitive symptoms, including persistent headaches, sensitivity to light, dizziness, memory loss, insomnia, incoherence, and even unconsciousness. Some of these symptoms may emerge immediately while others may emerge a couple of hours after the trauma has occurred. Symptoms can last anywhere between a few days to a few weeks. 

Unfortunately, regardless of the seemingly conspicuous signs of a concussion, 5 out of 10 go unreported or undetected. Reasons for undetected concussions can be attributed to the following:

  • Absence of diagnostic tests to specifically diagnose concussions

  • Symptoms that are often misdiagnosed as another medical condition

  • The possibility of symptoms not emerging immediately posing a challenge for healthcare professionals to suggest an appropriate remedial path promptly 


What Happens if a Concussion Goes Untreated?

If left untreated, concussions can seriously impact the patient’s long-term physical, cognitive, and mental well-being. Depression, erratic mood swings, problems with focusing on tasks at hand, fatigue, lightheadedness, and more, are some of the first symptoms of a concussion. 

Some of these symptoms can intensify over time if not dealt with promptly. It can also negatively impact the quality of life of the patient in various facets of life, including:

Lowered Work Performance

A recent NIH study revealed a significant negative impact of concussions on working-age adults’ work performance. The impaired attention, coordination, focus, and memory loss can result in the inability to complete tasks optimally. This, in turn, can hinder a patient’s professional well-being and growth. 

Frustration With Academics

Whether caused by sports or simply horsing around, concussions among children are extremely common. If left untreated, it can cause collateral damage in other areas of their lives, especially academics. 

Brain fog, amnesia, lack of concentration, and focus brought on by concussions can affect students’ ability to comprehend concepts, memorize, and take notes, resulting in exam difficulties, decreased grades, and overall frustration with learning. 

Strained Relationships

While a concussion is a physical injury, its repercussions may also extend to the patient’s social relationships. Depression and irritability can pose a hurdle to developing and maintaining healthy relationships.

Warning Signs to Watch Out For

Concussions often cause long-term damage not only in the lives of the patients but also to their loved ones and friends. Seeking timely medical intervention is paramount. If you are unsure if you or a loved one has suffered a concussion, it is prudent to visit a medical professional anyway, even if just to ensure that everything is normal. 

Some of the quick tell-tale signs that someone is suffering from a concussion include:

  • Headaches

  • Fatigue

  • Dizziness

  • Sensitivity to light and sound

  • Incessant mood swings

  • Brain fog

  • Memory loss

Not all patients will exhibit all of these symptoms. Some may have just a few, while others may display multiple signs. In both cases, it is prudent to visit a medical professional. 


Commonly Asked Questions About Concussions 

Do you have to be knocked out to have a concussion?

You do not have to be knocked out to endure a concussion. In fact, a majority of patients who have concussions never lose consciousness. 

Can you get a concussion from a hit to the jaw?

A blow to the head is not always the cause of a concussion. If you sustain a blow to your chin or jaw, you can still develop a concussion.

What’s the difference between a concussion and a traumatic brain injury?

A concussion falls under the umbrella term of traumatic brain injuries. But, there are other conditions that fall into that category as well, including but not limited to contusions, brain hemorrhages, and intracranial hematomas.

Who is most at risk for a concussion?

The following people are at greater risk of concussion: 

  • Older adults and children below the age of 4, due to their higher risk of falls

  • Adolescents and those involved in sports

  • Military personnel, due to their volatile work environment

  • Vehicle accident victims 


Mount Olive Family Medicine Center | Concussion Services

Mount Olive Family Medicine Center houses a specialized Concussion Clinic that provides comprehensive care for sport-related concussions. Patients must be diagnosed by their primary care provider, a provider at the Emergency Department, or a MOFMC Walk-in Clinic provider before scheduling an appointment in our Concussion Clinic with Dr. Ashley Long. 

The MOFMC’s Walk-In Clinic is an excellent option for patients seeking emergency care and is open six days a week to patients of all ages.


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