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What is the difference between contusions and concussions?

Throw out the term “traumatic brain injury,” and most in Bozeman would likely envision one who has suffered catastrophic brain damage that has left him or her in a vegetative state. The truth is, however, that most TBIs are not that serious. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 75 percent of the TBI’s that occur annually in the U.S. are mild in nature. Many mild TBIs fall into one of two categories: contusions and concussions. Most use these two words interchangeably. Yet are they different?

Both contusions and concussions can result from trauma to the head. Contusions, however, result in localized bleeding, or essentially bruising on the brain. A contusion is typically indicated by the following symptoms:

  •          A localized numbing sensation
  •          A drastic loss of coordination
  •          Sudden difficulty speaking or comprehending speech

A concussion is much more widespread injury than a contusion. It is caused by a sudden stretching of the blood vessels in the brain that can lead to cranial nerve damage across a wide area. If you were to sustain a concussion, you may experience a loss of consciousness, or feel a sudden intense headache or pressure within your skull. Vomiting along with ringing in your ears may also accompany a concussion.

Both concussions and contusions can be life-threatening. Therefore, if you have sustained a blow to the head in an accident or an assault and are experiencing any of the aforementioned symptoms, you should seek treatment right away. Contusions are often easier to detect using imaging studies because they result in bleeding on the brain. Concussion, on the other hand, may not show up in such studies. Providers must therefore pay attention to your symptoms to determine if they warrant a concussion diagnosis. 

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