Here’s more frightening research about brain injury: Just one concussion may cause lasting damage to the brain, according to a new study published online in the journal Radiology.
“This is the first study that shows brain areas undergo measurable volume loss after concussion,” Dr. Yvonne Lui, neuroradiology section chief and assistant professor of radiology at the NYU Langone School of Medicine, said in a statement. “In some patients, there are structural changes to the brain after a single said in concussive episode.”
After a concussion, some people lose consciousness, or experience symptoms such as headache, dizziness, memory loss, attention deficit, depression and anxiety. It’s well-known that some of these symptom last for months or even years.
Anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI) patients continue to have neurological and psychological symptoms for more than a year following trauma. And while “brain atrophy” has long been known to occur after moderate and severe head trauma, no one knows much about the lasting impact of a single concussion.
Lui and her colleagues studied changes in overall and regional brain volume in patients a year after they suffered a MTBI.
There were 28 MTBI patients (with 19 followed at one year) with post-traumatic symptoms after injury and 22 matched controls (with 12 followed at one year) involved in the study. The researchers used 3D MRIs to measure regional gray matter and white matter volumes, correlating those with clinical and cognitive measurements.
Here’s the shocker: Scientists determined that one year after concussion, there was measurable brain atrophy in the MTBI patients. The takeaway is that brain atrophy doesn’t just happen with severe brain injuries, but can also happen after a single concussion.
“This study confirms what we have long suspected,” Lui said. “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.”
In addition, some areas of the brain had a large decrease in volume, with those changes correlated with cognitive changes in memory, attention and anxiety.
“Two of the brain regions affected were the anterior cingulate and the precuneal region,” Lui said. “The anterior cingulate has been implicated in mood disorders including depression, and the precuneal region has a lot of different connections to areas of the brain responsible for executive function or higher order thinking.”