MONDAY, Jan. 18, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- Children who suffer a concussion don't just have a minor head bump, but a brain injury that parents, coaches and teachers need to take more seriously, Canadian researchers warn.
Parents often believe that concussion injury is mild and doesn't involve damage to the brain, said lead researcher Dr. Carol DeMatteo, an associate clinical professor in the School of Rehabilitation Science at McMaster University, in Hamilton, Ontario.
However, "concussion really is a brain injury -- there's no question about that," she said.
"The term concussion is used frequently, but there are no real guidelines in using it with children," DeMatteo said. "This means that many different types of injury of different severity can be called a concussion. This leads to misconceptions by families and coaches and teachers and children themselves."
Instead of using the word "concussion," these injuries should be called mild brain injuries and that may help these children get the care they need, DeMatteo added. "We only have one brain, so let's help kids look after theirs."
The report is published in the Jan. 18 online edition of Pediatrics.
For the study, DeMatteo's group reviewed the medical records of 434 children seen at McMaster Children's Hospital for a brain injury. About a third (32 percent) were diagnosed with concussion.
The researchers found that, compared with other brain injuries, children diagnosed with concussion spent less time in the hospital and fewer days out of school. They were also more likely to go back to school shortly after leaving the hospital.
If children go back to school or sports too soon after a concussion they are at an increased risk of having another head injury, DeMatteo noted. "Kids are twice as likely to have another head injury within a year if they have [already] had one," she said.
DeMatteo believes that children should see a doctor if they are showing signs of a concussion, such as fatigue, headache, memory problems, disturbed sleep or mood changes.
These symptoms can affect school performance, and returning too soon to sports can increase the risk for another injury, she said.
Most importantly, having a subsequent head injury can boost the odds of doing permanent damage to the brain, DeMatteo noted.
Gillian Hotz, director of the Pediatric Neurotrauma Program at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said parents are often relieved to hear that their child has "only" suffered a concussion.
But concussion is only a catch-all term for a spectrum of non-structural brain injury, Hotz said. "Most kids who have a concussion, rest -- the headache goes away, the symptoms go away, and they're fine," she said.
"But, you have to be very careful," Hotz said. "If there is damage on a CT [scan] or prolonged unconsciousness then it's in another category, not a concussion."
Concussions do need to be taken seriously, and injured children need to be seen by doctors before they are allowed to return to school or sports, Hotz said.
"If a kid goes down and has symptoms during a game they are pulled. They need to be cleared by a medical professional before they return to play, and not that game," she said.
"Concussions are cumulative so we are going to have a lot more severely injured kids if we don't start putting some of these policies into place," Hotz said.
For more information on concussions, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.