Is everything we know about traumatic brain injury wrong? According to researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, that might be the case as they claim the causes of chronic degenerative problems related to TBI are not what we think.
In the latest edition of the journal Neurotherapeutics, David Loane, PhD, assistant professor of anesthesiology and Alan Faden, MD, neurologist and professor of anesthesiology, argue the long-term neurologic problems and brain damage associated with repeated traumatic brain injuries are largely caused by untreated long-term inflammation in the brain.
The researchers also says this inflammation could potentially be associated with many symptoms associated with TBI including depression, cognitive decline, and brain atrophy.
In the report, Loane and Faden argue many researchers and medical professionals place too much emphasis on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE has been found in several deceased football players, and the new report says researchers frequently overlook treatable symptoms and problems in favor of the relatively rare CTE.
“Brain inflammation is a key issue, and it has been under-emphasized,” says Dr. Faden. “Recent brain imaging studies, including those in former professional football players, indicate that persistent brain inflammation after a single moderate head injury or repeated milder traumatic brain injury may be very common, and may contribute to cognitive problems. In addition, larger studies indicate that brain inflammation persists for many months or years in many people with traumatic brain injury.”
According to the new report, chronic brain inflammation has been shown to be treatable with experimental medications and carefully organized and monitored exercise programs.
Dr. Faden pointed to previous papers he has published which examined animal models of TBI to show even mild TBI can lead to significant psychiatric and cognitive problems.
“These studies show how repeated mild injuries can lead to the same kinds of injuries that occur after a single moderate or severe traumatic brain injury,” said Dr. Faden. “The brain inflammation and loss of brain cells look remarkably similar in both cases. Now that we understand more about the mechanism behind the damage, we can develop strategies to prevent or minimize the problems.”