Sports Concussions Lessen Blood Reaching Kids' Brains

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Larger Studies, Longer Follow-up Needed to Understand Effects on Young Brains

Although the small number of subjects limited their findings, Maugans and his co-authors said their work represented a significant step in understanding the biological effects of sports-related head injuries among pre-teens and teens. Most concussion studies have focused on symptoms of adults, rather than children, whose developing brains are both vulnerable, and according to this study, resilient as well.

The two youngest subjects in the concussion study, ages 11 and 12, showed no lessening of blood flow through their brains, which actually had more blood flow than that of healthy subjects. The study authors suggested that this initially high blood flow might be a characteristic response in the brains of younger children. They said the next step would be to conduct larger studies with longer periods of follow-up.

An estimated 3.8 million youngsters suffer sports- and recreation-related concussions each year. Studies have linked these brain injuries to such neurological disorders as dementia and Parkinson's disease, along with a newly identified condition, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, blamed for suicides by some pro athletes.

New research linking repeatedly heading a soccer ball to potential cognitive impairment and brain trauma to adds to the body of evidence about the brain's vulnerability to being hit. Researchers from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York concluded from their study of 32 amateur soccer players that brain changes from heading the ball more than 1,000 to 1,500 times in a year "may represent a form of repetitive mild trauma and may be associated with cognitive impairment." Exceeding that threshold could create "brain abnormalities" akin to those seen in traumatic brain injuries, according to a presentation being made today at the Radiological Society of North America annual meeting in Chicago.The researchers said the threshold could form the basis of public health interventions to minimize damage from head blows.

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