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Neurologists: Brain Injury Lingers Long After Concussion Fades

A new study in “Neurology,” the journal of the American Academy of Neurology, reveals that evidence of physical damage to the brain is still visible months later on brain scans of people who have suffered even mild concussions. It also found lingering cognitive and mood symptoms weeks and months after the injuries.

The news could have implications for victims of brain injuries of all types, including traumatic brain injuries, or TBIs. Unfortunately, TBIs are all too common among victims of car accidents, sports-related incidents and other personal injuries.

We hope you’re already taking care to protect your brain by wearing helmets during sports and by avoiding risky activities. If not, this study may indicate that even mild brain injuries are more permanent than scientists once believed.

The researchers studied 50 people who had suffered mild concussions and 50 otherwise similar people who had not, and gave them two types of tests. One type assessed the participants’ memory and cognitive skills, along with mood symptoms such as depression and anxiety. The other was a brain scan called a diffusion tensor imaging scan, which is more sensitive than a CT or MRI.

Both types of tests were performed two weeks after the initial concussion (or corresponding period), and then 26 members of each group repeated them at four months after the concussion date.

Two weeks after their injuries, unsurprisingly, the concussion sufferers performed worse on the memory and cognitive skills tests and reported more problems with anxiety and depression. After four months, those symptoms were substantially improved among the concussion sufferers, — but only by about 27 percent, at most.

The brain scans were even more revealing. Four months after the concussions, the brain scans still showed abnormalities in both hemispheres of the injured participants’ frontal cortexes. According to the study’s lead author, those abnormalities may represent swelling in and around the brain cells, or perhaps changes in the shape of certain cells called glial cells, caused by central nervous system damage.

Healing a brain injury, it turns out, may work like healing other injured body parts. “During recovery, reported symptoms like pain are greatly reduced before the body is finished healing, when the tissue scabs,” said the study’s lead author. “These findings may have important implications about when it is truly safe to resume physical activities that could produce a second concussion, potentially further injuring an already vulnerable brain.”

Source: Claims Journal, “Brain Still Injured from Concussion After Symptoms Fade,” American Academy of Neurology, Nov. 21, 2013

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