Damage to the brain caused by a concussion can last months after the initial injury and long after patients report feeling like they have recovered, according to a study from the University of New Mexico. Researchers say the results suggest athletes may be returning to games too quickly after head blows and could be at risk for more serious injury.
Concussions occur when an external blast, jolt or impact occurs to the head. Even if the skull isn’t fractured, the brain can still be violently rattled, causing injury such as bleeding, swelling, or neuron damage.
The study, published in the journal Neurology, compared the brains of 50 people with healthy brains to the brains of 50 people who had suffered from a mild concussion. Patients who had had a concussion reported problems with memory, headaches and dizziness. Those problems subsided within a matter of weeks. However, four months later, doctors were still able to see differences in the way the fluid moved through the brains of the concussed patients, indicating that the injury had not completely healed.
Standard practice in the United States for athletes who suffer from a mild concussion is to have them sit out of activity for a week to 10 days until the athlete feels better. Researchers say that, based on their evidence, feeling “normal” may not necessarily mean the brain has completely healed.
Previous research has already found that repeated blows to the head can, in time, cause serious problems including dementia, irritability and erratic behavior.