As professional athletes seem to shrug off the effects of a potential concussion to return to their game, it may be easy to assume that a concussion is a relatively minor concern.
Contrary to that opinion, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classifies a concussion as a mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI). And research from the New York University Langone School of Medicine published online in the journal Radiology shows that lasting damage to the structure of the brain can result from just one concussion.
The CDC reports that 1.7 million traumatic brain injuries occur every year in the United States. Of those more than 75 percent are the result of a concussion.
A concussion can result from a blow to the head, a fall or when the head is shaken such as in a car accident. Athletes of all ages are at risk of a concussion, as are school-age children on the playground.
Some concussion symptoms may appear immediately. Other symptoms can take days or even months to become apparent. Symptoms of a concussion usually fall into one of four categories:
• Problems with thought processes, including remembering new information and concentration
• Physical problems including dizziness, nausea, headaches and feeling tired
• Changes in mood including feeling irritable, nervous or sad
• Changes in sleep patterns including sleeping either more or less than normal or having trouble falling asleep
Research shows that concussion symptoms can persist for more than a year in 10-20 percent of patients. Scientists also know that moderate to severe trauma can cause injured tissue in the brain to atrophy or shrink. Less is known about the effects of a single concussion.
"This is the first study that shows brain areas undergo measureable volume loss after concussion," said Yvonne W. Lui, M.D., Neuroradiology section chief and assistant professor of radiology at NYU. "In some patients, there are structural changes to the brain after a single concussive episode."
Dr. Lou's study group tracked 28 patients with mild traumatic brain injury. Nineteen were in the final group along with 22 healthy patients.