Topics: Traumatic Brain Injury

Contusion vs. Concussion: Understanding the Difference

Contusion vs. Concussion

Newly initiated spinal cord injury survivors are hit with a dizzying array of terminology, and doctors aren't always the best at simplifying in more common terms what their endless list of jargon actually means. A contusion is basically another word for a bruise—bleeding on the brain due to localized trauma. The meaning of concussion is a bit less precise. The term generally refers to widespread brain trauma due to a blow to the head, shaking, or a similar injury.

Given these definitions, one might assume a concussion is just a more serious and widespread contusion. The reality is that the two injuries are fundamentally different. And while they are related, and one can cause the other, understanding the difference of a concussion vs. contusion can help you get a better idea of what to expect from your recovery journey.

The Relationship Between Contusions and Concussions

Because both contusions and concussions are a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI), and because both are often the result of a fall or blow to the head, it's easy to confuse the two. Even more confusing is the fact that you can have both at the same time. A contusion does not mean you have a concussion, but some contusions are due to head trauma so severe that the damage affects a larger portion of your brain. Likewise, a concussion does not necessarily indicate a contusion, since shaking and other brain injuries can produce the brain damage a concussion causes.

The difference between the two ultimately comes down to a simple distinction:

  • A contusion is a localized injury, comparable to the bruises you get when you hit your shin. And just like other bruises, contusions range from relatively minor to life-threatening. Because the blood must clot to stop the bleeding a bruise results from, contusions also increase cardiovascular risks. 
  • A concussion is a wider-reaching injury due to broad scale brain trauma. It's analogous to a sprain or broken bone in that it is not microscopic and affects more regions of the brain. 

Download our Simplified Guide to Understanding a Brain Injury
for more details on the anatomy of injuries to the brain.

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Hallmarks of a Contusion

Memory Challengers - One of the hallmarks of Contussion

Depending on the severity of a contusion, it's possible to experience no symptoms at all, aside from some minor pain or swelling on the area where you ht your head. When symptoms are present, they range from minor to life-threatening, and can include:

  • Changes in cognition such as alterations in personality, or reductions in intelligence.
  • Difficulty understanding speech.
  • Memory challenges.
  • Localized numbness or tingling.
  • Difficulty coordinating movements.
  • Difficulty speaking.
  • Problems with attention.

A contusion often occurs after a fall, or a blow with a sharp object.

Hallmarks of a Concussion

Intense headche - One of the hallmarks of concussion

Concussions occur when a larger region of the brain is injured, and may produce several contusions. Car accidents, falls playing sports, and acts of violence are leading sources of concussions. Not all concussions produce immediate symptoms, and some concussion sufferers do not receive medical care at all. A concussion can be a life-threatening injury, though, so any significant blow to the head—however minor it seems—warrants a trip to the emergency room, particularly if you lose consciousness. Symptoms of a concussion, like those of a contusion, vary but may include:

  • Changes in behavior, attention, or memory.
  • An intense headache, feeling of fullness, or pressure in the head.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Sleepiness, confusion, or feeling like you are in a fog.
  • Dizziness.
  • Ringing in your ears.
  • Difficulty remembering the event that caused the injury.
  • Vomiting.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Changes in speech.
  • Difficulty responding to questions.
  • Difficulty understanding conversations.

Sometimes the symptoms of a concussion only appear hours or even days after the injury, so if you've recently experienced a blow to head, you need medical care even if symptoms appear days later.

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Zawn Villines

Written by Zawn Villines

Zawn Villines is a writer specializing in health and legal journalism. Raised by a lawyer and lobbyist who advocated for spinal cord injury survivors, she is a lifelong advocate for spinal injury victims and their loved ones. You can connect with Zawn on Google+ below.

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