Findings suggest unreported or mild concussions still cause significant brain damage
November 25, 2014
Researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel have discovered that even mild concussions can have some dire consequences. Until the study authors' investigation, many believed that there was no method available for detecting a concussion directly after a hit. However, the rate of concussions in professional sports and even youth athletics is on the rise and the long-term effects of this sports injury are becoming more noticeable.
Finding a method
In their work, the researchers developed a new method involving magnetic resonance imaging to help detect the areas of the brain that become damaged during the trauma. The study authors believe they located what happens in the blood brain barrier, or BBB, noting significant long-term damage to the region. The findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical
The BBB is a semi-permeable membrane that keeps extracellular fluid apart from circulating blood. It keeps the brain healthy by protecting it from dangerous substances, and should always be intact. When it is damaged, neurological problems ensue.
The researchers stated that they had a very specific goal in their study - to use a newly created method to examine the severity and location of BBB dysfunction in football players' brains. The technology the scientists used provides a clearer picture of brains that have a "leaky BBB."
The study used 16 football players from Israel's professional football team and 13 track and field athletes from the university for comparative data. All of the participants were given an MRI between seasons.
A concerning truth
This is not the first time a study has found that concussions are overlooked. A 2014 study from Harvard and Boston University discovered that concussions often go unreported in football. The findings, which were published in the Journal of Neurotrauma, showed that 1 in 27 head injuries are actually reported. The results revealed that players have an average of six unreported concussions and 21 "dings" for every diagnosed concussion. The ratio was even higher among offensive linemen, with 32 suspected head injuries among 1 diagnosed concussion. The researchers from this particular study were astonished by the number of traumas that go undiagnosed, unrecognized or plainly ignored during competition.
The MRI technology from the Israeli study indicated the football players had significant damage in their brains. Approximately 40 percent of the football players with unreported concussions showed indications of leaky BBBs, compared to 8.3 percent of the track and field athletes.
The researchers noted that the findings between the football players and track and field players were stark. They also stated that six of the football athletes had a highly permeable BBB, compared to one track and field participant. The data also only showed the development of the head trauma in some players, suggesting that multiple concussions and hits impact athletes differently. They believe it could help players have a more individualized assessment that can more accurately determine when an athlete should return to play.
"Generally, players return to the game long before the brain's physical healing is complete, which could exacerbate the possibility of brain damage later in life," lead author and professor Alon Friedman said in a statement.
The study authors noted that for the past decade, their research has found that the development of concussions and a dysfunctional BBB plays a key role in neurological disorders and disabilities. They believe they may be the cause for long-term neurological issues.
A positive future
Medical researchers at the university are trying to find a way to create a medication that can target and potentially heal the BBB.
The study authors concluded that with continual research and a new diagnostic method, athletes such as football players can begin to make more informed decisions about their recovery and if they should return to play.
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