Head Injuries: More Than Concussions

Repeated smaller impacts to the head over time can damage brain blood vessels

(RxWiki News) Concussions have been linked to long-term brain damage, but a new study found that smaller impacts to the head may also lead to harm over time.

Researchers at Trinity College Dublin found that repetitive head impacts — as opposed to major, one-time impacts that lead to concussions — can cause damage to the blood vessels in the brain. Damaged blood vessels in the brain may increase the risk of serious health problems, such as bleeding, stroke and possibly cognitive issues.

This four-year study used sensor-enabled mouth guards in people who participated in contact and collision sports like rugby and mixed martial arts (MMA). The study authors also reviewed MRIs to confirm the severity and number of head impacts in study participants.

"Our findings, for the first time, suggest that repetitive head trauma can lead to an MRI signal that we can definitively link to the number and severity of impacts to the head," said study author Dr. Colin Doherty, consultant neurologist at St. James's Hospital, in a press release. "It appears that the repetitive nature of these impacts as opposed to single events are causing damage to the capillaries of the brain."

These researchers said their findings could eventually inform return-to-play guidelines for athletes and otherwise help protect athletes' brains.

If you are concerned about your brain health or that of your child, speak with your health care provider.

This study was published in the Journal of Neurotrauma.

Science Foundation Ireland, St. James's Hospital Foundation, Ellen Mayston Bates and the Trinity Foundation funded this research. Information about potential conflicts of interest was not available at the time of publication.

Review Date: 
September 25, 2019