Concussions are known to be common in athletes in contact sports, but they also can be caused as a result of a car accident injury, during military combat, or in any other situation when there is a violent blow to head.
While head injuries should always be taken seriously, medical professionals consider concussions a mild injury to the brain and typically just recommend a few days of rest.
But now a group of researchers has found that the current methods for diagnosing concussions do not fully reveal the lasting damage these "mild" injuries could have.
Conducting the largest imaging study on brain injuries in the military, researchers at the Walter Reed National Military Center used an advanced form of MRI to analyze brain images from more than 800 soldiers who were diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injuries, with about 84 percent reporting they experienced blast-related injuries. They found that more than half the participants who had at least one concussion had abnormalities in the white matter (which contains nerve fibers that transmit signals) of the brain.
According to lead researcher on the study neuroradiologist Gerard Riedy, the amount of white matter abnormalities was shocking.
"Something has happened to that section of the brain, and the body has come in and tried to repair it, and it leaves a little scar," Riedy said.
CT scans and MRIs sometimes do not reveal any signs of damage when testing after a concussion. Even if these tests did, it was previously believed that mild brain injuries should reveal a normal brain image. A normal image would mean there is no present threat of future health consequences. The study found that this is actually not the case, and even a mild injury could have long-term effects.
While the researchers will still have to study the medical findings more in-depth to be able to understand the abnormalities, looking for these "scars" could help doctors better detect concussions in patients who suffered from a mild head injury. The study was published in Radiology, the journal of the Radiological Society of North America.
Source: MIT Technology Review
Photo: erat | Flickr