What You Don’t Know About Concussions Can Hurt You
Did you know that a blow to the head or a whiplash-type injury can have lasting impacts long after any immediate symptoms—headaches, dizziness, blurred vision—have resolved? In fact, a concussion can have consequences that remain or emerge decades later.
What Is a Concussion?
A concussion is considered a mild form of traumatic brain injury (TBI), which occurs in over 2 million people each year.
Why is it so easy to damage the human brain?
Your brain is very soft, and it resides within a really hard skull that has multiple sharp, bony ridges. Whiplash, jarring motions (think Shaken Baby Syndrome), blast injuries, and bumps to the head can cause your brain to slam into the hard, interior ridges of the skull.
A concussion can cause the brain to lurch back and forth, stretching and twisting delicate tissues. This can hurt the brain in many ways, including:
- Damage to nerve cell connections
- Ripping open brain cells that spill out proteins like “tau” that cause inflammatory reactions
- Chemical changes
- Broken blood vessels and bleeding
- Increased pressure
- Lack of oxygen
5 Long-term Concussion Consequences
1. Memory loss
A study in PLOS Medical Journal found that people with a traumatic brain injury were 4 to 6 times more likely to be diagnosed with dementia within a year of the injury compared with people who had not suffered a TBI. This same 2018 study also reported that a concussion raises the risk of developing dementia over three decades later.
2. Abnormal tau proteins in the brain
Research shows that repeated concussions and TBIs, especially sports-related injuries in young athletes, can cause a proliferation of tau proteins within the brain. These substances are considered hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease and have been associated with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the neurodegenerative disease that has been documented in professional boxers and football players.
3. Loss of smell
Loss of smell is a common consequence of head trauma, and although it may sound inconsequential, it can be indicative of a serious problem. The area of the brain involved with smell (olfactory cortex) is near the memory centers, and they tend to deteriorate and die together. Having trouble smelling things like peanut butter, lemon, strawberries, or natural gas is associated with a higher incidence of significant memory problems, according to the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. Scoring poorly on the University of Pennsylvania Smell Identification Test strongly predicted those who would be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease later in life.
People who suffered a head injury prior to their 5th birthday or between the ages of 16 and 21 are at an increased risk of developing drug abuse, according to a 2014 study. Substances like drugs and alcohol are toxic to the brain and cause further damage that can negatively impact your life in many ways.
5. Mental health problems
Experiencing a head injury raises the risk of developing a mental illness, but surprisingly, few mental health providers are aware of this. Concussions and TBIs—even ones that occurred years earlier—have been linked to a rise in the following conditions:
- Anxiety and panic disorders
- Borderline personality disorders
- Anger issues
Have You Had a Concussion?
You might assume that you would readily remember if you had suffered a concussion, but a surprising number of people don’t recall experiencing a head injury. Some develop a form of amnesia surrounding the event, others think the bang on the head they got as a kid wasn’t significant enough to cause problems. Take some time to remember (or ask your parents) if you have ever experienced any of the following common causes of concussion:
- Fall out of a tree?
- Fall down the stairs?
- Fall off a horse?
- Fall off a roof?
- Dive headfirst into a shallow pool or the ocean?
- Fall off a fence headfirst?
- Have a car accident?
- Have whiplash?
- Sustain a work-related head injury?
- Suffer a concussion or head injury playing sports?
If you do recall a head injury, and you’re plagued with bothersome symptoms, it’s time to take action.
Consider Getting a Functional Imaging Study
A functional imaging study, such as SPECT or qEEG, may help pinpoint injured areas and is worth investigating if you are experiencing any issues with memory, substance use disorders, or mental health issues. Identifying past brain trauma can be a powerful first step to healing the brain and eliminating your symptoms.
At Amen Clinics about 40% of our patients have experienced a concussion or TBI, but many of them don’t remember it… until they see the damage in their brain scan or QEEG. Seeing the underlying biology of the brain allows us to create a personalized treatment plan to heal the brain and address the root cause of symptoms. For head injuries, we use a combination of the least toxic, most effective therapies, which may include neurofeedback, hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), nutraceuticals, and medications, as well as simple lifestyle changes that can make a big difference.
If you’re tired of struggling with symptoms and think you may have suffered a concussion or head injury, find out how we can help. Talk to a specialist today by calling 888-288-9834 or schedule a visit online.