TBI may cause depression and anxiety in children more than a decade later

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When a child suffers a traumatic brain injury, medical professionals watch for a number of symptoms or warning signs commonly associated with the injury. Those include issues like headaches, nausea, problems with memory, and even swelling of the brain.

These symptoms typically heal within a week or a month of the injury, and once they have resolved the injured child is declared “healthy.” But, a new study shows that children who have experienced TBI may experience psychological effects such as anxiety and depression more than a decade after their injury.

“The study suggests that brain injury is in some way related to longer-term anxiety symptoms, while previously it was thought that brain injury only leads to short-term effects,” study author Michelle Albicini explained to Reuters in an email.

Specifically, Albicini’s team from Monash University School of Psychological Sciences in Australia say that children – especially females – who experience moderate to severe brain injuries see a high risk for long-term psychological effects compared to children who experience mild brain injury or a concussion.

Despite the findings published in the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation, the team says they are a long way from fully understanding the long-term psychological effects caused by traumatic brain injury.

To start exploring the issue, the team evaluated 65 children who previously experienced mild brain injuries (defined as losing consciousness for less than 20 minutes, little or no memory loss, and a hospital stay of less than 48 hours) and 61 participants with moderate to severe brain injuries that required longer hospitalization. For most the participants, more than 10 years had passed since their injury.

The participants underwent psychological assessments, including diagnostic screening for several psychological disorders like generalized anxiety disorder, panic attacks, phobias, and depression.

According to the findings, children with any history of TBI were over five times more likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and four times as likely to suffer from panic attacks, specific phobias, and depressive disorders.

Among those with moderate to severe brain injuries, the risks were even higher.

Intriguingly, the findings also found that women were four times more likely to develop an anxiety disorder compared to men, regardless of their brain injury history.

While the findings are cause for further research and increased screening for those with moderate to severe brain injury, Albicini also explains that most people with a history of brain injury see a full recovery.

“While in most cases people recover 100 percent from brain injury, a select few may go on to experience anxiety, depression, or other ongoing psychological effects,” Albicini said. “More work needs to be done to help identify the risk factors for those people, and then how we can help them, to lessen the burden of brain injury.”

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