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Immediate Brain Damage from Hits to the Head

By: Cohen, Placitella & Roth @ Mar 26, 2018

When we talk about contact sports and traumatic brain injuries, we often think about the long-term effects of concussions. Researchers at Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) Center have analyzed the ways in which multiple blows to the head may, over time, result in the debilitating, degenerative condition known as CTE, but how do hits to the head impact athletes in more immediate terms? According to a recent article in The New York Times, blows to the head can have an immediate impact, and athletes and their families need to begin seriously considering these risks.

Teen Brains Can Show Signs of Trauma Within Days of a Hit to the Head

The key finding from the study is that athletes can sustain lasting damage, damage which can appear soon after a hit to the head even if the hit does not result in a concussion. Effects of sports-related hits to the head may be particularly conspicuous in teenagers who play contact sports. As the article states, “when a teenager is hit in the head, his brain can begin to show signs, within days, of the kind of damage associated with degenerative brain disease.”

This new study was published in order to shed more light on the connections among hits to the head more generally, blows to the head which cause concussions, and CTE. It also seeks to illuminate how more than just concussions can cause serious degenerative brain problems, and that these problems can begin much earlier than some researchers and physicians previously believed, even within days of a head injury.

The research arose out of four recent deaths of teenage athletes. Each of those young athletes sustained a head injury and died “within days or weeks” of the injury. Two of the athletes committed suicide, and two died as a result of the brain swelling typically occurring when a person sustains two brain injuries in close succession to one another. In examining teenagers’ brains, the authors of the study found early signs of CTE.

How Did the Study Work?

Despite medical imaging and advances in brain health technology, brains cannot be efficiently studied or assessed for CTE during a person’s lifetime, meaning researchers usually often must rely on the brains of deceased former athletes or animal test subjects, which is precisely how this particular study was conducted. How did it work? They used young male mice and “applied relatively mild jolts, designed to result in a sudden, strong jerking of their heads, much as occurs during head-to-head tackles and other impacts.” They then observed the mice to see which showed signs of concussion or other lasting head injuries.

Next, the researchers injected dye into the brains of some of the mice to determine whether “their blood-brain barriers had become permeable.” In many cases, they had. This means that the mice had “signs of leaky blood vessels and other damage, including inflammation and disruptions in the electrical activity within in their brains.” Moreover, some of the mice had other prominent signs pointing to CTE within days of the initial experiment.

Most importantly, the study found that concussions are not necessarily telling when it comes to signs of CTE. To be sure, “the animals that had developed concussion symptoms were rarely those that showed damage during the brain scans.” As such, athletes need to think more carefully about how any hit to the head might cause long-term health problems.

Contact a Brain Injury Attorney in Philadelphia

Sometimes brain injuries occur because of another party’s negligence. If you have questions, you should speak with a Philadelphia attorney. Contact Cohen, Placitella & Roth today to learn more about how we can assist you.

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