Just One Concussion Can Change the Brain for Life, Kentucky

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Kentucky parents go pale when their toddlers hit their heads on a piece of furniture, insist that their kids wear their bike helmets, and say a prayer when a football-playing teenager gets pounded to the ground, bumping a helmet-covered head. A recent study reveals that our concern is warranted.

Traumatic Brain Injury

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes a traumatic brain injury, or TBI, as an injury resulting from a bump, blow, or jolt to the head, or an object, such as a bullet, that penetrates the skull. The injury causes disruption to normal brain function.

Not every bump on the head causes TBI, and cases of TBI range from mild to severe. A mild TBI (MTBI), or concussion, may cause a brief change in mental status or consciousness, whereas a severe TBI can cause a long period of unconsciousness or even amnesia.

Each year in the United States, 1.7 million people sustain a TBI; about 75 percent of these are concussions. Besides a brief loss of consciousness, patients may have a headache, dizziness, loss of memory, attention difficulty, depression, or anxiety.

Studies reveal that 10 to 20 percent of concussion victims continue to display symptoms of their injury more than a year after the event. Scientists have known for quite a while that moderate to severe TBI can lead to brain atrophy, but not much is understood about the long-term effects of a single MTBI. ScienceDaily ran an online article on March 12, 2013, detailing the results of a revealing study that was published in the online journal Radiology.

A Brain Study of MTBI Patients

Yvonne W. Lui, M.D., is Neuroradiology section chief and assistant professor of radiology at New York University (NYU) Langone School of Medicine. Lui and her colleagues wanted to study what changes in brain volume, if any, had occurred in MTBI patients after one year.

The researchers used three-dimensional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to evaluate the amount of gray and white matter in the brains of 28 MTBI patients and 22 controls. One year after the initial MRI, the researchers rechecked the brain volume in 19 of the MTBI patients and 12 of the controls.

Brain Damage From Concussions

The results showed a significant decrease in the regional volume of certain areas in the brains of MTBI patients compared to the controls. Lui and her colleagues conclude from their research that brain atrophy occurs not only in severe cases of TBI but even after one concussion.

“This is the first study that shows brain areas undergo measureable volume loss after concussion,” said Dr. Lui. “This study confirms what we have long suspected. After MTBI, there is true structural injury to the brain, even though we don’t see much on routine clinical imaging. This means that patients who are symptomatic in the long-term after a concussion may have a biologic underpinning of their symptoms.”

Dr. Lui emphasizes the importance of people who have had a concussion to see a doctor. If symptoms continue, MTBI patients should schedule a follow-up appointment before they take part in contact sports or other high-risk activities.

If you or someone you love has sustained a brain injury in Kentucky, call Gray and White Law at 502-210-8942 or toll free at 888-450-4456 to set up a FREE, no-obligation consultation.