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Brain & Nervous System Health Center

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Concussion's Damage to Brain May Linger

Special scans found differences in gray matter when compared to those without head injuries

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Maureen Salamon

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 20, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Months after concussion symptoms such as dizziness, headaches and memory loss fade, the brain continues to show signs of injury, a new study suggests.

Comparing 50 concussion patients with the same number of healthy people, researchers found that the brains of those suffering concussions showed abnormalities four months later. This happened despite the fact that their symptoms had already eased to some degree.

The findings may sway conventional thinking about when it's safe to resume physical activities that could produce another concussion, the study authors said.

"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," said study author Andrew Mayer, an associate professor of translational neuroscience at the Mind Research Network in Albuquerque, N.M. 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."

The study, which was funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, is published in the Nov. 20 online edition of the journal Neurology.

Considered a mild traumatic brain injury that occurs from a sudden blow to the head or body, a concussion has symptoms that range from headache and blurry vision to difficulties in sleeping or thinking clearly. Most occur without losing consciousness, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mayer and his team matched 50 patients with mild concussions to 50 healthy people of similar age and education levels. They tested all participants in memory and thinking skills, as well as other symptoms such as anxiety and depression.

Special brain scans using technology that is not available in standard brain scans were also given. All tests and scans were repeated two weeks after the concussion, and again four months later.

While concussion symptoms were reduced by up to 27 percent four months after injury, brain scans of those with concussions showed abnormalities in the frontal cortex area of both sides of the brain. These abnormalities may have resulted from changes in location of fluid around brain cells or changes in the shape of certain brain cells in response to damage, Mayer explained.

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