Recurrent concussions linked to depression
With football season heading into full-throttle, it’s time to
consider the lasting effects of a common injury — concussions.
New research shows people who suffer multiple concussions have a higher
risk of clinical depression.
This news should turn the heads of many people. Anybody who receives
a blow to the head, as in a car accident or fall, may sustain a concussion.
But athletes in contact sports such as football or hockey are more likely
than the average person to experience multiple concussions. According
to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, an estimated 1.2
million Americans participate in organized football each year and 10%–20%
of these players may suffer from this mild brain injury. And one concussion
seems to render individuals more susceptible to sustaining additional
concussions in the future.
While most people recover from concussions, a few experience persistent
problems with memory or other neurological functions. Doctors believe
individuals who experience severe or multiple concussions may be at a
greater risk for neurologic disease later in life than the average person.
The findings of a recent study involving close to 2,500 retired National
Football League players were presented at the 2003 meeting of the American
Association of Neurological Surgeons. The data in this study revealed
recurrent concussions do not lead to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s
disease, as was believed to be the case. However, the research did indicate
a link between multiple concussions and an increased risk of clinical
depression. According to the data, players who’d had three to four
concussions had twice the risk of clinical depression as players who
had no history of concussions. Players who had five or more concussions
had three times the risk.
Researchers know concussions disrupt chemical reactions in the brain
and this imbalance may be what leads to depression. Future research will
be aimed at finding out just what happens in the brain following a concussion
and how long the disruption from the injury lasts.
It’s important to recognize the symptoms of a concussion and allow
for time to recover. While loss of consciousness is often thought of
as the telltale sign of a concussion, only individuals who suffer grade
2 or 3 concussions actually lose consciousness. Grade 1 concussions are
harder to identify but some indications include confusion, short-term
memory loss, persistent headache, fatigue, and impairment in vision,
balance, or hearing. While a team trainer on the sidelines may be able
to recognize the signs of a concussion, often teammates will recognize
when a player is confused. Athletes who suffer a concussion should not
just “shake it off” and return to the game. A doctor or medical
trainer should evaluate the athlete to determine how much rest is needed
and to decide when it is safe to return to play.
September 2003 Update
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