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Life After Combat: Coping with Concussion

Concussion, also known as mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI), is a common problem for today’s returning Veterans. In combat, a concussion is often caused by a blast, a blow to the head, or a fall. You may have been unconscious for a few seconds or minutes after the injury. Or maybe you were dazed, confused, or “saw stars.” After this, you thought you were okay. Now, weeks or months later, you’re having symptoms that may be due to a concussion you received while you were deployed. The good news is that these symptoms will likely go away on their own. Most people with a concussion recover fully, with no need for treatment.

Woman lying in bed holding compress to forehead.
A cold compress can help relieve a headache.

What Is a Concussion?

A concussion is a mild form of brain injury. It usually can’t be detected with imaging tests. In some cases, the effects of a concussion go away within days of the injury. In others, symptoms may continue for up to 6 months or even longer. Fortunately, a concussion is temporary. Even when symptoms persist for months, they do go away over time. If they do not or if your symptoms are worse, contact your health care provider.

Symptoms of a Concussion

You may have noticed some of the following symptoms:

  • Headaches

  • Irritability and other unexplained changes in behavior

  • Problems remembering or concentrating

  • Dizziness, lack of coordination

  • Fatigue

  • Problems sleeping

  • Changes in the senses (such as vision, hearing, or smell)

NOTE: If you have severe symptoms or trouble functioning, talk to your healthcare provider right away. If you had a more serious head injury than a concussion, you likely need treatment. Be sure to see your healthcare provider for evaluation.

What You Can Do

Since the effects of a concussion go away over time, there isn’t a lot you need to do. Be assured that this problem is temporary. You’ll likely have a full recovery. In the meantime, talk to your healthcare provider about ways to relieve any symptoms that are bothering you. These tips may help:

  • When you have a headache, apply a cold compress or ice pack to the pain site. Rest in a quiet, darkened room.

  • Stress can make symptoms worse. Help calm yourself by resting in a quiet place and imagining a peaceful scene. Relax your muscles by soaking in a hot bath or taking a hot shower.

  • Take over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, to relieve headache pain. Take them as directed on the package.

  • If you become dizzy, sit or lie down in a safe place until the sensation passes. Don’t drive when you feel dizzy or disoriented.

  • If you’re having trouble sleeping, try to keep a regular sleep schedule. Go to bed and get up at the same time each day. Avoid or limit caffeine and nicotine. Also avoid alcohol. It may help you sleep at first, but your sleep will not be restful.

  • Give yourself time to heal. Your recovery will take some time. When you have symptoms, remember that you won’t feel this way forever. In time the symptoms will go away and you’ll be back to yourself.

If You’re Not Feeling Better

The effects of a concussion often go away within 6 months. If you’re not feeling better as time passes, there may be something else going on. Concussion has many symptoms in common with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If your symptoms don’t go away or you notice new ones, talk to your healthcare provider. He or she can help you get the treatment you need.

Online Medical Reviewer: Nelson, Gail A, MS, APRN, BC
Online Medical Reviewer: Stock, Christopher J, PharmD, BCPP
Last Review Date: 10/14/2013
© 2000-2014 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.