How To Determine The Severity Of A Concussion

How To Determine Severity Of A Concussion

To determine if you have a concussion it comes down to the symptoms.

There are several different grades of concussion, but there is one crucial factor that is almost universally agreed on and that is, the severity of a concussion must be determined by its symptoms. 

In other words, the more severe the injury, the more severe it must be deemed to be. The following chart illustrates the difference between Grade 1, Grade 2, and Grade 3 concussions:

Grade 1: Mild concussions are diagnosed with an “X” grade and can often be healed quickly with rest and ice.

Grade 2: Moderate concussions are diagnosed with a “C” grade and require rest, ice, or both.

Grade 3: Severe concussions are diagnosed with a “D” grade and require hospitalization.

concussion brain injury

 The Dangers Of Being Concussed.

One of the most common questions people ask is if they can die from a concussion. Here’s the answer: “Yes & No.”

The reason you should know this is because almost all of the symptoms you might face after a mild concussion (such as headaches, dizziness, and lightheadedness) are just temporary, and usually go away after a few minutes or less. 

I know this because I had one strain of it on my head while playing football in high school and it took me a month to get back to normal. And it was nothing compared to what happened to Brett Favre.

But even when you don’t get hurt (which is why many doctors won’t tell patients how bad their injuries are), there are still serious long-term effects on your brain. 

The most important one for dealing with is Post-concussive syndrome, which causes problems with memory, concentration, balance, judgment, and other everyday functions that usually last at least 10 years after your brain has recovered from the injury.

After a mild concussion-like the ones we see happen in football games, you need to be aware that even minor concussions can have serious consequences over time — and not just for your head injury but also for your life (and those around you).

So when someone asks me “Can I die from a concussion?” I have no answer for them — he or she will just have to live with the consequences for years to come, without any guarantees about how long that could last. 

But if they knew how rare it is to die from a concussion then they would not have too much concern. 

Grade 1 Concussion: Mild, with symptoms that last less than 15 minutes and involve no loss of consciousness.

Here are some common symptoms of a mild concussion, although a more nuanced picture is possible. In some cases, mild concussions can be completely dismissed (this is not the case with severe ones). 

In other cases, they can be treated with ice, rest, and sleep. For the best outcomes, doctors should follow the following guidelines:

– Treat symptomatically: keep them warm and let them rest

– Don’t try to increase their activity level or take supplements that might exacerbate symptoms

– Don’t force them to stay awake. They may not like it but they will be much happier if you do

Grade 2: Moderate, with symptoms that last longer than 15 minutes and involve no loss of consciousness.


Here are some common symptoms of a moderate concussion. While these don’t often lead to hospitalization (and you should feel better in about 7 days), there are still plenty of people who experience mild concussions, and the lack of awareness that they have caused injuries can still result in an injury or even death. 

Most people recover from mild concussions within seven days; however, some may need up to two weeks depending on the severity of their injury and how many blows were sustained during play or other activities. 

How long it takes depends on how well you’re recovering from your injury, as well as how much time was spent on your feet or running around when you were injured  (you can get an idea by asking yourself “what would I do if I was in my car when I got hit?”). And while they may not remember what happened during those times, they might remember what happened afterward.

So getting your mind back into normalcy can be hard work but anyone who has taken a few minutes out of their day to ask themselves “what would I do if I had been hit by a truck?” probably feels like giving up after just one week… If you’re still feeling dizzy, nauseous, or otherwise unwell after three days have passed since your concussion occurred, consult with your doctor (keep in mind that this could be due to other recent changes in diet or medications).  

Here are some common symptoms of a severe concussion (the difference between grades 1 and 2 is worth noting.

TBI Can Cause Personality Changes
“A grade 3 “concussion” is generally defined as a loss of consciousness for longer than 15 minutes. Concussions are very often mistakenly diagnosed as epilepsy.”

Grade 3 Concussion: Severe, in which the person loses consciousness, sometimes for just a few seconds.

How to diagnose a concussion, and how to handle it.

A grade 3 “concussion” is generally defined as a loss of consciousness for longer than 15 minutes. Concussions are very often mistakenly diagnosed as epilepsy.

In general, you can only diagnose a concussion if you have:

  • The person says the word “concussion” at least 50 times (or some other phrase or expression) in the preceding hour; or
  • The person reports that any of the following happened: falling downstairs, hitting something, getting hit by something hard enough to send them tumbling, or being knocked unconscious by someone else.

But there are certain situations in which this rule fails:

  • If they say they have been throwing up (even if they don’t vomit), or if they say they feel nauseous but do not vomit; or
  • If their symptoms develop slowly over several hours (they eventually get better and then get worse).  And because these symptoms usually last longer than 15 minutes, even if you can’t tell when it started, you still need to diagnose a concussion.  It may be that some people have minor concussions that resolve after an hour of rest and quiet time. 

But many people have more severe concussions that aren’t treated properly – in which case getting them help is essential.  The same goes for people who experience recurrent concussions over multiple days; repeating accidental falls may also contribute to a concussion.  

Children and Concussions

If your child has been having problems with falling down the stairs recently or falling asleep on their own bed at night, then it may be worth taking them to an emergency room.

A simple way to determine whether a person has suffered a mild concussion is through a series of tests called cognitive functions. These include: 

  • Memory 
  • Attention 
  • Language 
  • Motor coordination

The most important tests are memory and attention. In memory tests, the person must remember something for 10 seconds (or longer) without any prompting; in attention tests, participants must answer questions about something for 10 seconds without any prompting from anyone else. 

Some forms of testing are considered too demeaning for kids – like asking them about favorite foods – so doctors sometimes use simpler forms such as “Tell me about your day.” But even this isn’t always enough information: when kids do poorly on

  How To Treat A Concussion

A concussion is a very serious injury, but it can happen to anyone. Here are the symptoms and how to treat them.

A concussion that lasts five minutes or less is considered mild. Most concussions last from 15 minutes to 24 hours (with some lasting much longer), so you should be alert and aware of your surroundings for at least that long. But there’s no reason for you to feel panic-stricken!

For the most part, you will be able to function normally once you’ve sustained a mild concussion. With that in mind, here are the symptoms that everyone who gets a concussion should watch out for:

  • Loss of consciousness (you might hear your voice go silent)
  • Slowed speech (or slurred speech)
  • Slurred speech with an accent — like when someone says “crop” instead of “crap”
  • Confusion — because even if you don’t remember what happened, you can still get confused by an event over which you had no control
  • High blood pressure or irregular heartbeat — Your blood pressure may increase and your heart rate might become irregular after a concussion, so make sure your doctor is aware of these signs before sending you home from the hospital
Causes of concussions & TBI

Most people who sustain a mild concussion don’t require any treatment other than rest and fluids. If they do have symptoms though, they should be treated immediately by their health care provider. 

For more serious concussions, however, there are some things that doctors can do. They may do tests that may detect brain swelling as well as blood tests to detect certain proteins associated with brain injury. 

If you have any questions about whether or not your doctor thinks that medicine is needed in treating concussions or wants more information on it, please ask him/her! 

In general though: If someone gets a mild concussion, then this situation does not call for medical care at all; just go about your normal routine until the next day (and re-schedule any appointments). If someone gets more serious concussions, however, then medical attention should be sought immediately.

About The Author

Tiffany Dyar

Tiffany Dyar is the former Executive Director for The Center for Health Innovation & Implementation Science, and the former Program Manager at Regenstrief Institute.Tiffany has co-authored several medical publications including The American Journal of Critical Care  Journal of General Internal Medicine Trials Journal  Best Practices in Mental Health  & The New England Journal of Medicine

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