New study shows the long-term trauma of concussions

December 10, 2013


New study shows the long-term trauma of concussions

While many people assume that concussions are temporary injuries, doctors have been studying the long-term effects the injury may have, such as cognitive impairment, on-going memory loss and permanent brain damage. One recent report has revealed that while the brain remains intact following a concussion, there could be underlying - and potentially harmful - trauma.

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health found that after the brain has sustained a concussion, tissue cells protecting the vital organ began forming an immune defense. To study this process, the scientists developed a trauma head-injury model using mice and filmed the cell movement. Then, they studied more than 140 patients who experienced a minor head trauma injury yet did not reveal any physical signs of damage to the brain tissue on their initial scans.

"In our mice, there was leakage from blood vessels right underneath the skull bone at the site of injury, similar to the type of effect we saw in almost half of our patients who had mild traumatic brain injury," said Dorian McGavern, the study's senior author and a National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke scientist. "We are using this mouse model to look at meningeal trauma and how that spreads more deeply into the brain over time."

Although the findings show that concussions result in damage to the brain's protective barrier, the researchers also revealed that there might be a way to reduce the long-lasting effects. According to the study, certain molecules can move past holes in the protective barrier, such as reactive oxygen species, which are molecules that are released after minor head trauma and damage cells. However, another molecule, the antioxidant glutathione, helps block this damage when applied directly on the skull surface. When tested on the mice, the glutathione reduced cell death by 67 percent immediately after the injury, and by 51 percent three hours later.

While more studies need to be done, the researchers believe there is a possibility that concussions can be treated within this three-hour time frame.

Prevention still needed
Concussions are among the most common sports injuries and typically occur in high-contact sports, such as football. As more incidents of minor head trauma are being reported among children, teens and college athletes, concussions have become a growing public health concern. The National Collegiate Athletic Association is currently facing 10 class-action lawsuits from former athletes who are seeking stronger protections for head injuries, while U.S. News & World Report recently reported that the number of emergency room visits for concussions in children increased by 92 percent between 2002 and 2011.

However, some doctors believe that the number of medical visits for concussions and other minor head injuries might be a good sign.

"People and doctors are recognizing sports-related concussions more. People are recognizing the signs and symptoms," Holly Hanson, an emergency medicine fellow, told the news source. "People are more aware of the complications. So people are coming in more."

Hanson added that to safeguard against potential short and long-term health complications, parents should remind their children to wear helmets and take them to medical professionals as soon after an incident as possible for assessment and treatment. 

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