Study: Concussions lead to permanent changes in brains of athletes

Study: Concussions lead to permanent changes in brains of athletes

A new study examines how the brain is affected by concussions.

A newly published study finds permanent changes in the brains of some athletes who have a history of concussions.

Forty-five male and female Canadian university hockey players were observed in a study during the 2011-2012 season.  All of the athletes were given M.R.I. scans before and after the season, while those who suffered a concussion were given additional scans within 72 hours and two months of the occurrence.  The study found that those who have a history of concussions experienced acute micro structural changes in their brains.

The study, conducted by Dr. Paul Echlin, a sports concussion specialist in Ontario, is the first of its kind to use magnetic resonance imaging before, during, and after a season to measure the effects of concussions on the brain.  According to Dr. Echlin the evidence is overwhelming and may lead to changes in how sports are played.

“We’ve seen evidence of chronic head injuries later in life from head trauma, and now we’ve seen it in current players,” said Echlin.

The results of the scans are shocking — Dr. Echlin and his team found microscopic white matter and inflammatory changes in the brains of those who have suffered a concussion.  Players that suffered a concussion in the 2011-2012 season, as well as those who have suffered from a concussion in the past showed a significant difference in the brains’ white matter compared to those players with no history of concussions.

Researchers believe that the changes in the brains’ microstructure may be due to micro hemorrhaging, neural injury, or other inflammatory responses to brain injuries.  Researchers believe that the imaging techniques used throughout this study may be able to serve as a model for monitoring acute and cumulative brain injuries sustained by athletes.

Results of this study show that athletes are suffering concussions more frequently than believed.  Dr. Echlin noted that changes need to be made in the way that sports are played to prevent these injuries.  Additional research will need to be done on larger populations of athletes in both contact and non contact sports, as well as non athletes in order to validate the results of this study.

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