Concussions cause brain abnormalities similar to Alzheimer’s, study shows
More and more research has raised concern over
the dangers of concussions - one of the most common forms of head
trauma - as many sufferers go on to experience persistent
neurological symptoms throughout their lives.
Now, scientists have discovered a clue as to why mild traumatic
brain injuries (MTBI) can have such long-lasting health
In a study published in the journal Radiology, researchers found
that white matter damage in the brains of people who had
experienced concussions closely resembled the type of white matter
damage found in patients with Alzheimer's disease. These findings
suggest that concussions set off a chain of neurological events
that can cause long-term damage to the brain.
"It's not the hitting your head that's the problem. It's
everything else that happens after that," said lead study author
Dr. Saeed Fakhran, assistant professor of radiology in the Division
of Neuroradiology at the University of Pittsburgh School of
Concussions affect more than 1.7 million people in the United
States annually - and around 15 percent of those people suffer
lasting neurological symptoms.
Typically, when people experience concussions, CT and MRI scans of
their brains look normal and doctors have remained largely in the
dark regarding the best ways to treat these types of injuries,
according to Fakhran.
Fakhran and his colleagues decided to take a closer look at the
impact concussions were having on the brain. Researchers gathered
data from 64 MTBI patients, with a mean age of 17, and 15 control
patients. Thirty-nine percent of the MTBI patients had suffered a
prior concussion and two-thirds of the patients had suffered a
concussion as a result of a sports-related injury.
"We used something called diffusion tensor imaging, which is a
subset of MRI looking at just the white matter," Fakhran said. "It
looks at areas where your white matter is injured."
Due to the white matter injuries seen on the patients' scans,
researchers were able to hypothesize that when a person hits his or
her head, it sets off a chain of events in the brain that can
potentially lead to long-lasting neurological damage.
"Most people will tell you if you hit your head, you get a
concussion, and the damage comes from the act of hitting your
head," Fakhran said. "(But) maybe the hitting your head is lighting
the fuse and the damage comes from a neurodegenerative cascade
If doctors can figure out how to stop the chain of damage that
occurs in the brain after a concussion, Fakhran said they may be
able to mitigate some of the side effects associated with the
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