According to the Brain Injury Research Institute, 1.5 million Americans suffer from traumatic brain injuries, with a brain injury occurring every 15 seconds. Concussions make up a large percentage of these cases, making it the most common form of brain injury. With such a large number of people affected by concussions, it is important to know the long-term effects associated with this brain injury. Regardless of how a concussion occurs or how severe it is perceived to be, it is important to seek immediate medical attention to reduce the risk of long-term effects.

How Do Concussions Happen?

Simply put, a concussion occurs due to a traumatic blow to the head that causes both the head and brain to be shaken back and forth in a whiplash-like fashion. This causes the brain to be bounced around within the skull, damaging the brain’s inner structure. The brain’s functions are affected due to physical and chemical changes brought on by the damage. So what are some of the most common causes and risk factors of a concussion?

Sports-Related Injuries

A significant number of concussions occur due to sports-related injuries. According to the CDC, there are somewhere between 1.6 and 3.8 million sports and recreation-related concussions occurring each year in the United States. While people of all ages participate in sports, adolescents are at a much higher risk for concussions due to the fact that their brains are still developing. Contact sports such as football, basketball, and soccer are known to be the sports most commonly associated with concussions. 

Falling

In 2014, falls were the leading cause of traumatic brain injuries, with 48% of all traumatic brain injury emergency room visits occurring that year as a result of a fall. Of concussions caused by a fall, young children and older adults are the most commonly affected.

Motor Vehicle Collisions

In regards to those between the ages of 15 and 24, studies report that motor vehicle collisions are the most common cause of concussions. While many people who find themselves involved in a motor vehicle collision may assume they are okay because they haven’t lost consciousness, this isn’t always the case. In fact, many people who suffer from concussions don’t lose consciousness at all. This highlights the importance of seeking medical treatment after a car accident.

How Can a Concussion Affect You Long-Term?

Many of the more recognizable symptoms associated with a concussion develop in a relatively short period of time. These include trouble concentrating, memory problems, and sensitivity to light or noise.

Unfortunately, there are a number of long-term effects associated with a concussion. While fairly rare, there are two factors in particular that make your chances of experiencing long-term effects from a concussion more likely. These include neglecting to treat a concussion or getting a series of concussions over time.

Post-Concussion Syndrome

While the symptoms of a concussion should resolve within one to six weeks on average, some people suffer from symptoms for much longer. Post-concussion syndrome is defined as a complex disorder where a variety of symptoms persist for weeks, or even months after a concussion occurs.

While you may be quick to assume that post-concussion syndrome is primarily associated with severe concussions, this isn’t necessarily true. Medical professionals suggest that the severity of a concussion has no impact on whether or not post-concussion syndrome will be experienced. Let’s take a look at the symptoms experienced by those suffering from post-concussion syndrome:

  • Headaches
  • Disorientation
  • Fatigue
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Increased irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of concentration and memory
  • Blurry vision
  • Sensitivity to noise and light
  • Decreases in taste and smell (rare)

When it comes to post-concussion syndrome, unfortunately researchers have yet to determine why some people with concussions develop persistent long-term symptoms while others do not. Some experts suggest that post-concussion symptoms develop due to more psychological factors. This is because many of the common symptoms mirror those associated with anxiety, depression, and PTSD.

Long-Term Effects Lasting Decades

In 2013, research presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science suggested that brain damage caused by a concussion can last for decades after the original injury.  This research highlighted the fact that injuries with no visible abnormalities on MRI or CT scans can cause debilitating symptoms as the years go on.

Citing many instances of people suffering from the long-term effects of a concussion, including athletes and soldiers, the research went on to detail the symptoms. These included learning, memory, judgment, and emotional impairments. Each of these symptoms makes daily life more difficult for sufferers, whether in a sense of interpersonal relationships or work performance.

Avoiding the Long-Term Effects of a Concussion

Considering that one of the biggest risk factors for developing long-term symptoms after a concussion is suffering from multiple concussions, it is important to allow your brain time to heal. According to Jeffrey English, M.D., a neurologist at Piedmont Healthcare, 80% to 85% of those suffering from a concussion (with the exception of professional athletes) recover within two to three weeks with no known long-term health consequences. Dr. English goes on to state that there is evidence that sustaining a brain injury when you haven’t fully recovered from a concussion can have long-term consequences.

It is for this reason that healthcare professionals require patients to abstain from normal physical activity until they meet certain requirements. Dr. English urges those who have suffered from a concussion to first complete a five-step progressive physical exertion plan with their physician before returning to regular activity. He also recommends that coaches, players, and parents keep an eye out for symptoms of concussion as a preventative measure against long-term effects in young athletes.

Finally, if you or someone you know is suspected of a concussion, don’t wait to seek medical attention. Regardless of whether or not you exhibit some of the most common signs of a concussion, it is important to get checked out after taking a hit to the head. Concussive symptoms can sometimes be elusive depending on the individual, so it is important to meet with a physician.