A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a condition that disrupts normal brain function, often due to some type of blow to the head. Two common types of TBIs are brain contusions and concussions.
These injuries are similar in that they affect the functioning of the brain. However, they have differences in their symptoms and how doctors grade and treat them.
What Is a Brain Contusion?
A brain contusion (also called a cerebral contusion) is the bruising of brain tissue. It’s similar to a discoloration anywhere on the body in that blood escapes blood vessels and pools in the area. Brain contusions are, of course, more serious than other bruises due to their location.
Cerebral contusions can happen anywhere on the brain but are most common at the base of its front portion.
What Is a Concussion?
A concussion occurs when the brain shifts inside the skull, striking the sides: the shifting and impact stretch and damage arteries and nerves in the brain. Most often, concussions are caused by blows to the head, but they can also result from excessive force without contact, such as when a car comes to a sudden stop, and an occupant experiences a whiplash effect.
Unlike a brain contusion, which is more localized, a concussion tends to affect a larger area of brain tissue.
How to Distinguish Between a Contusion and a Concussion
Brain contusions and concussions are both caused by head trauma. However, they produce different symptoms. For example, contusions cause:
- Changes in thinking
- Inability to concentrate
- Dilated pupils
- Trouble speaking
- Movement difficulties
- Localized numbness and tingling
Contusions can be mild, moderate, or severe. Severe brain contusions can be life-threatening.
People who suffer concussions may experience:
- Intense headaches
- Nausea and vomiting
- Ringing in the ears
- Behavioral changes
Concussions are categorized based on severity:
- Grade 1. This type involves no loss of consciousness and resolution of any other symptoms within 15 minutes.
- Grade 2. There’s no loss of consciousness with this type of concussion, but the symptoms last longer than 15 minutes.
- Grade 3. This type involves loss of consciousness and other symptoms lasting more than 15 minutes.
Concussions can have both immediate and long-term effects.
Contusion vs. Concussion: Diagnosis and Treatment
Healthcare providers diagnose brain contusions and concussions by assessing symptoms, performing physical and mental testing, and reviewing the results of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computerized tomography (CT) scans.
Treatments for traumatic brain injuries include rest, blood clot removal and skull fracture repair if needed, and medication. Patients experiencing high intracranial pressure may have to undergo procedures to drain excess fluids from inside the skull.
Get Care for Brain Contusions and Concussions at Baptist Health
If you suffer a significant head injury and suspect you may have a brain contusion or concussion, you should seek medical attention right away. That can include seeing your doctor (who may refer you to a neurologist) or going to an urgent care clinic or emergency room in the event of a serious injury.