Health Alert: Concussion basics

COLUMBIA, SC - This is peak season for fall sports, and a prime time for sports-related concussions. While thousands of players suffer from them, these brain injuries aren't isolated to athletes. So here's what you need to know about concussions.

If anyone told Matt Nelson he'd still be rehabbing from a concussion months after the fact, he wouldn't have believed it.

"I thought for sure it would have been one week, maybe two weeks at the most," he said. But the concussion he suffered in wrestling practice left a long-term problem.

"It's definitely been a roller coaster ride. Just recently, about a month ago, they put me on medication for my head. I mean, 90 days straight with a headache is pretty, pretty tough."

Matt's dealing with a sports-related concussion - one of the estimated 300-thousand of those reported every year, but that's only the tip of the iceberg.

Dr. Mark Lovell says, "The recent figures from the CDC, from the Centers for Disease Control, suggests that from two to four million people may be having these types of injuries a year."

Dr. Lovell says concussions, considered mild traumatic brain injuries, literally rattle the brain.

"What happens with a concussion is that there is a shaking or violent rocking of the brain within the skull cavity, and this causes temporary, usually, changes in some of the brain chemistry."

This altered brain chemistry can set off a cascade of problems, lasting from hours to months.

Dr. Lovell says, "One of the biggest things we see are changes in memory, particularly short-term memory and in the ability to concentrate."

Other problems triggered by a concussion include dizziness, loss of balance, and more.

"We oftentimes see difficulties with sensitivity to light and with sensitivity to noise. And a whole host of other symptoms that often go along with having a migraine headache."

Though mostly associated with sports, concussions aren't limited to the field or arena.

Dr. Mark Lovell says, "One of the primary sources of injury in children are bicycles. And a lot of those injuries could be prevented if they would just wear a bicycle helmet."

At the other end of the spectrum: the elderly, who get most concussions from falls. For all of us, the simple "click" of a seatbelt could prevent a world of woe.

Dr. Lovell says, "We highly recommend that people wear their seat belts while they are in a car because many of the really bad head injuries we see are caused by individuals who are not properly belted."

For matt, his concussion experience has made him more aware of the risk posed by this seemingly small injury.

"You've got to listen to your doctors and listen to your trainers even though you want to get out there and compete."

A concussion can't be "seen" on a Cat-scan or an MRI. But the University of Pittsburgh researchers have found that a special type of MRI, called a functional MRI, can indicate abnormal brain activity in kids and teens who have had concussions.

The researchers hope this technology can help screen players objectively to ensure kids aren't returned to play before their concussion has healed.