When In Doubt, Sit It Out

What exactly happens when you get a concussion? Are there any long-term repercussions of getting one? Previous to reading this weeks article, I figured that getting a concussion or multiple concussions was detrimental, what I didn’t know were the serious, long-term negative effects that multiple concussions can have. Repeated concussions can lead to a disease called CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), which leads to many dementia-like symptoms. Clinical symptoms include changes in mood, behavior, cognition, and in some cases motor disturbance. This disease is often found in athletes, many times in contact sports such as football, boxing, or ice hockey. Most often these symptoms do not appear until many years after trauma, and to make matters more complicated, as of right now the disease can only be diagnosed postmortem. Many have died not from the disease itself, but from disease related behaviors such as suicide. It is a serious disease that does not seem to get much attention. So, back to my first question, what exactly happens when you get a concussion?

Right after trauma to the brain a complex cascade of neurochemical and nuerometabolic events occur. The flux of ions gets thrown off, leading to physical membrane defects. Due to this, neurotransmitters are release and this results in further ion flux. Energy is used up by the brain attempting to keep ionic balance. When these events occur just once and the brain has time to heal, not much damage is done, but when repeated injuries occur this may result in permanent damage and conditions such as CTE. All this science mumbo jumbo may not mean much; what should we do about this issue?

An easy solution would be to simply stop playing sports after a certain number of concussions, or to take a very safe amount of time off after suffering from a concussion. Unfortunately, the solution is not this simple. Many athletes who get a concussion wish to keep playing regardless, especially when it has been a while since the concussion occurred. Many do not take serious enough how long it takes to fully recover from a concussion. Athletes may feel completely fine after a concussion, even if the brain is not fully recovered. It is important to note that there are various levels of severity when it comes to concussions. Depending on this severity and the number of concussions someone has suffered in the past, athletes may be out for up to a month or should stop playing for the rest of the season. The fact is, that this is not always what is really happening. Many athletes go back to playing or even just practicing before they should, resulting in more concussions and thus major brain injuries later in life. By reading this article, I have come to realize the severity of multiple concussions. This problem may be larger than we realize and many athletes may suffer later in life from something they don’t even know is currently happening in their brain. We need to start taking concussions more seriously and hopefully more research will aid us in understanding diseases such as CTE before death so we can do something to prevent or treat them.