What Complications Can Arise From a Concussion?


Predisposition to Degenerative Brain Diseases

Over the past few decades, research has linked moderate to severe brain trauma with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.

One study concluded that a history of just one prior head injury was associated with a 1.25 higher risk of dementia than in those who never experienced one. Two or more prior head injuries were associated with a more than 2 times increased risk of dementia.

Another study found that in adults ages 50 and older, the risk of dementia was increased by 4 to 6 times the first year after traumatic brain injury. After the first year, the risk decreased rapidly but was still there more than 30 years after the initial trauma.

Other studies have shown mixed results, and more research is needed to better understand the link.

Emerging research indicates that people who have experienced repeated traumatic brain injuries or multiple blows to the head without loss of consciousness are at an increased risk of developing a brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. Professional athletes, including former NFL players, and combat veterans appear to be at a higher risk for CTE.

It remains unclear how often CTE occurs, but it is believed to be relatively rare. Complicating the picture is that CTE can only be fully diagnosed after someone dies, and autopsy findings do not necessarily correlate with clinical symptoms that may have been occurring before death.

Much more research around CTE is needed, and a few studies have started to shed some light.

In one study, researchers from the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University reported that 87 of the 91 deceased former NFL players they studied tested positive for CTE.

Another study, of 202 deceased former football players (a combination of high school, college, and professional athletes), identified CTE in 177 of the participants. Of the 111 former NFL players, CTE was diagnosed in 110.

While most studies on CTE have been conducted only on athletes, research suggests those who do not play contact sports can also be affected. In a study, researchers examined the brains of 300 deceased former athletes and 450 deceased non-athletes. CTE was found in 27 athletes and 15 non-athletes.

A case study also found evidence of CTE in a young female victim of domestic violence, prompting calls for more research in this population.

Additionally, the majority of research on CTE has been done in men. The Boston University CTE Research Center has been enrolling female former soccer players for a first all-women CTE study.

Other research underway, such as the Late Effects of TBI project (LETBI), is exploring the long-term effects of TBI in the general population.

Such studies will help researchers better understand the relationship between head trauma and CTE, how to identify it early, and potential treatments.


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