The common perception of concussions has long suggested that the “mild” brain injuries only have short-lived symptoms which often heal within a week or two. However, new findings say the brain can continue to show signs of injury months after the symptoms have subsided.
Researchers from the Mind Research Network in Albuquerque, N.M. compared 50 concussion patients with an equally sized group of healthy patients. They found that the brains of those who have suffered a concussion showed abnormalities as much as four months later.
Their findings could have a major impact on how long athletes are removed from contact sports following concussions. The current rules require athletes to be sidelined until they have been cleared by a medical professional, but these tests rely on reported symptoms.
“This is a very different population than professional athletes going out and having concussions on a fairly [frequent] basis, as well as jostling their brain around their skull on a regular basis in practice,” study author Andrew Mayer told HealthDay
. “It’s hard to predict an outcome based on these findings, he said, “but just because you feel you’re healed doesn’t mean you are.”
Mayer and his colleagues matched 50 patients with mild concussions to 50 healthy participants of similar age and education levels. All participants were tested on memory and thinking skills, as well as being tested for other symptoms such as anxiety and depression. All these tests, as well as brain scans, were repeated two weeks following injury, and again four months later.
The researchers saw that concussions symptoms were reduced by up to 27 percent at four months after injury, but brain scans of the concussed patients showed abnormalities in the frontal cortex area of the brain.
“In one or two weeks, most people typically report feeling better,” Mayer said. “But when we start talking about it in an analogy of a burn or knee injury, it becomes a little more clear when the doctor says we need to wait a bit longer [to return to prior activities]. It makes sense that the brain would be similar to those tissue types.”
The study is published in the Nov. 20 online editions of Neurology.