Concussion Symptoms May Disappear, But Slowed Brain Blood Flow Persists

First Posted: Dec 01, 2015 12:58 PM EST

The symptoms of a concussion may pass, but a new study shows that even following clinical recovery, some athletes experience reduced blood flow to the brain.

Researchers at Medical College of Wisconsin found that up to eight days after injury, football players who suffered from a concussion still showed lower blood in the brain even when symptoms had subsided.

During the study, researchers examined 18 concussed players and 19 non-concussed players. They looked at MRIs of each individual within 24 hours following their injury and a follow-up MRI eight days after the injury--comparing results with those of the non-concussed players.

The concussed players demonstrated significant impairment on clinical assessment at 24 hours post-injury, but returned to baseline levels at eight days. In contrast to clinical manifestation, the concussed players demonstrated a significant blood flow decrease at eight days relative to 24 hours post-injury, while the non-concussed players had no change in cerebral blood flow between the two time points.

"In eight days, the concussed athletes showed clinical recovery," study author Yang Wang, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of radiology at the Medical College of Wisconsin, said in a news release. "However, MRI showed that even those in clinical recovery still had neurophysiological abnormalities. Neurons under such a state of physiologic stress function abnormally and may become more susceptible to second injury."

The study sample is rather small and health experts say it's too early to determine what reduced cerebral blood flow could mean for the future. However, the findings hold important implications for anyone who may deal with a concussion--and particularly for athletes who likely deal with reoccurring ones.

Furthermore, statistics from 2010 show that about 2.5 million emergency department (ED) visits, hospitalizations or even deaths were associated with traumatic brain injuries--what's defined as a bump, blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the normal function of the brain, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The findings were presented at the Radiological Society of North America's annual meeting.

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