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7 Long-Term Effects of Concussions, TBI & Head Injury

What is a concussion? A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury. This can occur after head trauma and can result in brain damage or an altered mental state.

Post-concussion syndrome is a disorder affecting multiple systems in your body. It can last months and result in symptoms such as dizziness or headache.

Post-concussion syndrome can go away with time, but repetitive brain injuries can result in the dangerous progressive brain disease called CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy).

Don’t worry. We’ll let you know what to do and which common symptoms to look out for to recognize long-term issues.

Though concussions require immediate treatment from a medical professional, they are fairly common.

How common are concussions?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that almost three million adults and children in the United States suffer a concussion each year. Each day, an average of 150 Americans die of traumatic brain injury. 

How does a concussion happen? The main causes of a concussion are head injuries from car accidents, falls, and sports-related concussions.

There are long-term effects of concussions in football. Football players are especially vulnerable to severe or mild traumatic brain injury.

Since it is a contact sport, football is a risk factor for long-term concussion symptoms. The NFL (National Football League) has been slow to admit the link between playing football and sports concussions. However, researchers have concluded there is indeed a link.

But American football is not the only dangerous sport. There are a few sports where a higher percentage of athletes suffer concussions:

It is estimated that one third of former amateur contact sports athletes have CTE, which is a progressive brain disorder resulting from repetitive head injuries.

The long-term effects of multiple concussions can be even worse. The more often you are concussed, the more likely these symptoms of concussions will occur.

Short- and Long-Term Impact of Concussions

Concussion symptoms have been described in research almost 100 years old. In 1928, research described concussed fighters as “punch drunk,” “cuckoo,” “goofy,” “cutting paper dolls,” and “slug nutty.” We have since determined kinder and more scientific terms to describe concussion symptoms.

Can concussions cause permanent damage? Yes, mild concussions may result in short-term symptoms that go away with time. However, severe or repetitive concussions are likely to result in long-term consequences.

Can a concussion cause permanent memory damage? Yes, permanent memory damage and dementia are symptoms of CTE, which is triggered by multiple concussions.

How many concussions cause permanent damage? According to published research, 17 is the average number of concussions that leads to CTE, which is the progressive brain disease that results in these long term effects of concussions.

Short-Term Effects of Concussions

The common symptoms of a concussion can be short-term — AKA these symptoms appear soon after the concussion occurs and can dissipate. 

Post-concussion syndrome is a term that can refer to these short-term symptoms of concussions. These short-term effects are mostly treatable.

Headache

A headache is pain in your head, face, or neck. There are multiple types of headaches caused by many different triggers.

Headache is the number one symptom after a concussion. Head injuries typically result in short-term headaches. However, these headaches can persist over several months if your concussion is not properly treated.

Trouble Concentrating

If you suffer a concussion, you may experience trouble concentrating.

This is especially noticeable at work or at school. Co-workers can be helpful when noticing concussion symptoms.

Sensitivity to Light

Sensitivity to light is the second most common symptom of concussion after headache. Also known as photosensitivity or photophobia, sensitivity to light may be to all lights, or only specific types of lighting.

Colored glasses are known to help mitigate the pain associated with post-concussion light sensitivity.

Sensitivity to Noise

Sensitivity to noise is a common symptom after experiencing a concussion. People who suffer concussions may have problems going to loud places, like restaurants.

Concussions may also trigger a ringing in your ears, also called tinnitus.

Memory Problems

Memory problems are normal after a concussion. Permanent or temporary loss of memory are more upsetting concussion symptoms.

The victim of a concussion may actually forget what happened to cause the head injury.

Long-Term Effects of Concussions

The long term effects of concussions stem from CTE, a progressive brain disease caused by multiple concussions.

CTE stands for chronic traumatic encephalopathy. The average number of concussions that leads to the long-term consequences of CTE seems to be 17 concussions.

Memory Loss

Similar to post-concussion syndrome, CTE can trigger memory loss. Repetitive concussions can lead to long-term amnesia because of the brain damage concussions can cause.

Personality Changes

Loved ones may notice personality changes in concussion victims. They may not exhibit these changes in behavior/mood until years — even decades — after the initial head trauma.

These are the personality changes that can occur after concussions:

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is considered a potential long-term effect of concussions. Parkinson’s disease is a brain disorder that may cause tremors and arm/leg stiffness.

Suffering a concussion can increase your risk of developing Parkinson’s later in life by 50%.

Both CTE (caused by multiple concussions, long-term) and mild TBI (single concussion, short-term) can increase your risk of developing Parkinson’s disease later in life.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is another common symptom of concussions that may occur in the long-term.

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive brain disorder resulting in memory loss and cognitive impairment. Eventually, Alzheimer’s patients struggle to hold a conversation or complete simple tasks.

Sleep Disturbances

You may experience sleep disturbances after a concussion. Brain trauma can negatively affect the neurons involved in “sleep-wake control and circadian rhythm maintenance.”

Treatment of sleep disturbances is especially important since issues with your sleep can slow your natural concussion recovery.

Smell and Taste Dysfunction

Loss of smell (AKA anosmia, or “smell blindness”) is a well-established result of head trauma. Up to a quarter of concussion patients have reported loss of taste and smell.

The severity of your post-concussion smell dysfunction is related to your age and the severity/type of injury.

Taste dysfunction is directly related to smell dysfunction, since they use the same receptors.

A concussion can also cause a bad taste in your mouth.

Concussions vs. TBI vs. CTE

Concussions are a type of traumatic brain injury. A concussion occurs when you suffer a head injury, such as during sports, a car accident, or a fall. A concussion is often referred to as “mild TBI.”

TBI stands for traumatic brain injury. Concussions are a type of TBI, but there are other examples of TBI:

CTE stands for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. This is a progressive neurodegenerative disease caused by repetitive brain injuries. CTE accounts for all of the “long term effects of concussions” that we’ve been talking about.

Effective Treatments for Concussions

Proven treatments for concussions include upper cervical care, mental/physical rest, exercise therapy, dietary changes, and all-natural painkillers. 

Treating symptoms is a short-term solution to immediate pain, but it is important to correct any damage caused by your concussions to prevent lasting effects. 

We’ll cover the most effective treatments for concussions, as well as some all-natural painkillers to relieve your pain in the moment.

Upper Cervical Care

Upper cervical care from a chiropractor is an effective treatment for a concussion. Upper cervical care regulates and normalizes your levels of cerebrospinal fluid.

Cerebrospinal fluid is the fluid around your brain inside your skull. Cerebrospinal fluid levels are an optimal biomarker for a healthcare professional to diagnose if you have suffered a concussion. Imbalanced cerebrospinal fluid levels have been linked to migraines and post-concussion syndrome.

Fortunately, upper cervical chiropractors should be able to correct spinal misalignments that lead to a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid. This relieves pressure in the skull and addresses the escalation of symptoms that can occur when concussions happen.

If you live in the Denver area, consider setting up an appointment with Denver Upper Cervical Care. We work with our patients to diagnose and treat spine-related problems, such as post-concussion syndrome due to the imbalance of cerebrospinal fluid.

Physical and Mental Rest

After you address any build up of spinal fluid, doctors will suggest physical and mental rest after a concussion.

For several days, avoid unnecessary physical activities. After that, avoid any activities that exacerbate your symptoms. (Don’t play contact sports or go on roller coasters for a while.)

For a few days, avoid any activities that involve a lot of thinking or concentration:

Exercise Therapy

Exercise therapy is a less common, but very effective treatment of concussion.

After a concussion, patients will experience less blood flow to the brain. This means even light exercise can cause a headache.

However, research indicates that low-impact aerobic exercise therapy may be an effective treatment for post-concussion syndrome.

Dietary Changes

Dietary changes that reduce inflammation may be useful in treating your concussion. Changing your diet seems an odd treatment, but it has to do with inflammation.

Any injury results in inflammation, including head injuries. If your symptoms persist after a month, it may be important to reduce inflammation that can lead to all sorts of medical conditions.

Avoid these inflammatory foods:

Eat these anti-inflammatory foods:

All-Natural Painkillers

These all-natural painkillers can relieve pain and inflammation that results from concussions. Though these are not long-term treatments, they can be effective tools until you can get an appointment to treat the actual issue. 

Here are the most effective, research-backed all-natural painkillers:

Looking to the Future

A mild concussion can be treated with rest or exercise. All concussions should be followed up with chiropractic care and lifestyle changes.

If you or a loved one are experiencing these post-concussion symptoms, seek medical attention right away. The sooner your concussion is treated, the more likely you will avoid the long term effects of concussions.

Sources

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  11. Morse, A. M., & Kothare, S. V. (2018). Sleep disorders and concussion. In Handbook of clinical neurology (Vol. 158, pp. 127-134). Elsevier. Abstract: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30482340
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Dr. Ty Carzoli

Denver Chiropractor Dr. Ty Carzoli, located in Glendale near Cherry Creek and Wash Park, offers the best in research-based pain relief and wellness care, with an emphasis on gentle treatment delivery. Dr. Carzoli is honored to be the only Chiropractic Orthospinologist in the state of Colorado. The mission of Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic is to help community members have a better life, regardless of their age, vitality level or physical condition. Our practice is family-friendly and caters to the comfort and well-being of every practice member — from infants to seniors.
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