By now most people know that concussions can be dangerous. A new study suggests that children who suffer concussions may be more susceptible to long-term effects from their injury.
Researchers studied 30 children between the ages of 10 and 17 years old. Bran scans and cognitive tests were performed. Half of the children had recently suffered concussions in which they'd lost consciousness and shown an altered mental state.
Children who had suffered concussions showed small deficits in their cognition and changes in their brains' white matter, compared with those who hadn't suffered brain injuries. White matter consists of nerve fibers surrounded by the insulating fat called myelin. These results were found 2 weeks after their injuries.
Three months later, brain scans showed that the children who had suffered concussions still had changes in their white matter.
"These findings may have important implications about when it is truly safe for a child to resume physical activities that may produce a second concussion, potentially further injuring an already vulnerable brain," study researcher Andrew Mayer, of the University of New Mexico, said in a statement.
Studies with adults who have had concussions have shown that the brain’s white matter changes, but this study showed that the damage to white matter in children who had concussions was greater. Mayer said that children may be more susceptible to the effects of brain injuries.
Dr. Christopher Giza, a brain injury researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, said future studies should investigate whether the structural changes revealed in the brain scans have clinical implications for kids. Giza was not involved in the study.
"Further work is needed to determine whether the changes in white matter present at four months represent a prolonged recovery process or permanent change in the brain," Giza said in a statement.
Previous studies have shown that teens who suffer concussions may also have memory problems up to six months after being injured.
Concussions can vary from slight to severe. Someone with a concussion may lose consciousness, but this doesn't happen in every case.
Common symptoms of a concussion are:
- A change in level of alertness
- Extreme sleepiness
- A bad headache
- Repeated vomiting
- Difficulty concentrating, thinking, or making decisions
- Difficulty with coordination or balance (such as being able to catch a ball or other easy tasks)
- Slurred speech
- Feeling anxious or irritable for no apparent reason
After a concussion, the brain needs time to heal. Recovery time will depend on how long the symptoms last. It's very important for kids to wait until all symptoms have ended before resuming normal activities. Physical symptoms, balance and coordination, and thinking and personality all should return to the pre-injury level.
The study was published in the Journal of Neuroscience.