Single concussion could have long-term consequences: What are the symptoms?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
A single concussion could have long-term effects on the brain finds first study

One blow to the head from a blunt trauma that leads to concussion can have long-term consequences from loss of brain matter and in some instances structural damages to the brain, find researchers.

The study is the first to elucidate the dangers of concussion that happens to 1.7 million people in the U.S. each year, according to the CDC.

Yvonne W. Lui, M.D., Neuroradiology section chief and assistant professor of radiology at NYU Langone School of Medicine said in a press release, "In some patients, there are structural changes to the brain after a single concussive episode.”

What causes concussion?

Concussion or mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI) happens from a sudden blow to the head that can lead to loss of consciousness briefly or even for an extended period of time.

Blunt trauma from sports, being struck with an object, falls or motor vehicle accidents can all lead to concussion.

Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, confusion and difficulty remembering. For some, symptoms can persist for months and even years.

New findings show long-term brain changes possible


For the newest study, Lui and colleagues studied post-concussion patients one year after injury who experienced ongoing psychological and neurological symptoms.

The researchers wanted to find out if a single concussion could change brain structure and volume. They used MRI studies to compare those changes to symptoms. They found a single concussion with mild brain injury can cause measurable loss of brain mass.

"This study confirms what we have long suspected," Dr. Lui said. "After MTBI, there is true structural injury to the brain, even though we don't see much on routine clinical imaging. This means that patients who are symptomatic in the long-term after a concussion may have a biologic underpinning of their symptoms."

The researchers compared the findings to a control group, finding the MRI results also correlated with anxiety, memory loss and attention.

One of the brain injuries affected is responsible for executive function and another is thought to be responsible for mood disorders – the precuneal region and anterior cingulate, respectively.

The take home message from the researchers is that people who have experienced concussion should continue to be followed by a physician, especially if symptoms persist and before engaging in any high risk sports.

The study shows a single concussion can have long-term effects on the brain for some. The authors also caution the findings should not be generalized to any particular individual who has had a head injury.

Radiological Society of North America

Image credit: Morguefile