Symptoms Fade – Concussion Damage May Not

Concussion effects on brain may last several months after injury

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Even if symptoms from an injury fade, it does not always mean the body has completely healed. More scientists are learning that this can be especially true for concussion injuries.

A recent study found that patients who experienced a concussion may continue to have some damage to their brains months after the injury.

The patients who had a concussion did experience improvements in their thinking skills and emotional symptoms months later. But the recovery for their physical brains appeared to move more slowly than the recovery in the symptoms they could physically experience.

The researchers did not find damage to brain cells in those with concussion. The findings were related to brain abnormalities instead.

"Protect your head from risk of concussion."

This study, led by Josef M. Ling, BA, of The Mind Research Network Lovelace Biomedical and Environmental Research Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico, aimed to understand how concussion affected a person's brain months after the injury.

The researchers compared 50 patients who had a concussion with 50 patients without concussion.

The patients were "matched" to one another based on having the same age, sex and level of education.

All 100 individuals took various tests to assess their memory, attention and overall thinking skills two weeks after the injuries had occurred to the patients with concussion.

They also were assessed at this time for symptoms of anxiety or depression, and they underwent brain scans.

Then, four months after the injuries had occurred, the researchers re-assessed 26 of the patients with concussion and 26 of the comparison participants with the same scans and tests.

As expected, the patients who had a concussion reported more complaints about their cognitive skills, emotional concerns and general physical concerns (headache or dizziness) in the two weeks after their injury than those who did not have a concussion.

Four months later, these cognitive, physical and emotional symptoms were, on average, 27 percent lower in the patients who had experienced a concussion.

However, differences seen in the brain images of the participants existed at both the initial scans and the scans four months later.

The initial brain scans revealed about 10 percent greater abnormalities in the brains of those who had concussion compared to the non-injured participants.

Four months later, these greater amounts of abnormalities remained in the patients who had sustained a concussion.

The positive findings were that no brain cell damage appeared present in either group of patients at the first or second brain scan.

"These findings suggest potentially different recovery courses for neurobehavioral (more rapidly resolving) and physiologic (more slowly resolving) signs of mild traumatic brain injury," the researchers wrote.

Past studies have found cell damage in individuals with traumatic brain injury.

The fact that no loss of neurons was seen in the patients with concussions in this study implies that any cell damage might occur later in a person's life or might be the result of repeated injuries, the researchers wrote.

However, Kevin Crutchfield, MD, a neurologist at Sinai Neurology Associates in Baltimore and a dailyRx expert, noted that the findings of this study do not offer a lot of new information that is useful to patients or doctors.

"We don't know what those abnormalities actually mean," Dr. Crutchfield said. "We don't really know what we're looking at when we look at those abnormal images."

Dr. Crutchfield said the finding is interesting, but it really brings up more questions than answers right now.

"I'm challenging these researchers to provide me as a clinician with valuable information that I can use to make my patients better tomorrow," he said. "Does it mean they can't get hit again? Do we know if there's permanent damage?"

Without knowing more about the value of the findings, he said the brain scans are simply an expensive picture of what competent doctors already know.

"If we develop an interventional therapy to show that we can change this, then maybe it will be beneficial," Dr. Crutchfield said.

This study was published November 20 in the journal Neurology. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
November 20, 2013
Last Updated:
December 3, 2013