Can a Concussion Cause Long Term Brain Problems?
By Dr. Kristie
Do you have a child who plays sports or who loves to be a daredevil on a skateboard or bicycle? If so, they may be at a higher risk of experiencing a brain concussion. Although concussions have traditionally been thought of as mild forms of head injury that completely resolve without long-term problems, this may not always be the case. There’s evidence to suggest that a minor concussion may have affects on brain activities many years later. The so-called “mild concussion” may not be so minor after all.
A brain concussion occurs when a person receives a blow to the head or a shaking type of injury which causes changes in brain activity, but without bleeding or other damage seen on x-ray. The symptoms of a mild concussion can be quite variable and can include a brief loss of consciousness. Even if no loss of consciousness occurs, a child may appear confused, dazed, have memory deficits, and behave in a peculiar manner. When is it most likely to happen? A minor concussion commonly occurs when a child is playing sports, playing outdoors, or as a result of a car or bike accident. Anytime the head experiences a blow or a jarring type of movement, a brain concussion can result.
Although a MRI or CT scan may be needed in severe cases of head injury, if symptoms are only mild, imaging studies may not be needed. This is why the history surrounding the head injury is so important. The history and how a child behaves immediately after the injury can determine whether or not a child needs to be hospitalized for further studies and observation.
Although a mild concussion generally resolves over a period of several days to a few weeks, there are some studies that show that children who experience a brain concussion, particularly multiple ones, can have subtle changes in memory and problems with inattentiveness even up to thirty years after the event. This appears to be more likely to happen if a child returns to playing sports too soon after a minor concussion.
What can parents take away from this study? It’s important when a child is diagnosed with a minor concussion that he or she not be urged to go back to playing sports or allowed to play unattended outside too quickly which could raise the risk of longer term problems.
Parents should also take whatever steps possible to protect child against potential head injury such as providing appropriate helmets and head gear when your child is participating in sports or riding a bicycle, skateboard, or scooter. Although kids may not think it is “cool” to wear a helmet, the importance of this can’t be overemphasized. The brain is one organ you definitely want to protect at all costs.
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