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Concussions and brain structure changes: hockey research evidence

Football isn't the only sport in which players are at risk of brain injuries.

As we discussed most recently in our February 3 post, the evidence continues to accumulate that concussions and other head injuries suffered on the football field can have catastrophic consequences in years to come.

But similar dynamics are at work in other sports. In this post, let's take note of recent research on brain damage suffered by college hockey players when a blow to the head results in a concussion.

Standard MRI scans of the brain done in hospitals aren't able to pick up microstructural damage. But recent studies by Canadian researchers document the microscopic brain damage that a concussion can cause.

The research was published yesterday in the Journal of Neurosurgery.

Before the research was conducted, scientists and doctors were already aware that concussions and other traumatic brain injuries can cause inflammations that affect the structure of the brain. But by using advanced imaging techniques beyond the usual MRI, the Canadian researchers were actually able to see structural changes in the brain from concussion damage.

Researchers are still uncertain of the long-term effects of these microstructural changes. But the effects could go beyond common concussion symptoms such as headaches and memory loss.

For a more severe concussion, the symptoms can also include problems with concentration, irritability and sleep disturbance.

When the injury is not severe, the symptoms should eventually dissipate.

With more severe head injuries, however, the damage may be permanent. Multiple concussions are one reason this may occur.

But the Canadian research shows that even one concussion can result in changes to the white matter of the brain. The long-term effects of this are unknown. But when someone suffers brain trauma in a car accident, a fall or through some other injury, these findings provide reason to be concerned.

Source: CBC News, "Concussion in hockey players tied to microscopic changes in brain," Feb. 4, 2014

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