Can Teenage Concussion Result In MS Later In Life?

Concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury that is caused by a sudden blow to the head. This is mainly seen with contact sports or in a motor vehicle crash. A person with concussion will have temporary impairment with brain functioning. The primary symptoms of concussion include loss of consciousness, vision problems, dizziness, and problems with balance and coordination, and memory issues. Symptom onset is immediate or after a short while after the injury but in some cases it takes days for the first symptom of concussion to appear.[1,2,3]

While the symptoms and effects of concussion are temporary and last for a short period of time, recent research has shown that concussion in the teenage years may impact brain health in the long run. A study showed that professional footballers who had concussion at some point in their life were at risk for developing memory impairments later on in life. However a recent study done by Dr. Scott Montgomery of the Oerebro University in Sweden have found a potential link between concussions sustained in the teenage years to development of Multiple Sclerosis later in life.[1,2,3]

These findings have been reported in the Annals of Neurology. However, the study mentions that all teenagers are not at risk. It is well known that multiple sclerosis is caused by a combination of various factors including genetic makeup and other environmental factors.[1,2,3]

Dr. Montgomery states that not all teenagers who have a concussion should worry about getting multiple sclerosis later on in life as they may not have the genes required to get the disease.[1,2,3] This article discusses the link between teenage concussion and risk of multiple sclerosis later in life.

Can Teenage Concussion Result In MS Later In Life?

Studies estimate that around 2.5 million people globally are affected with multiple sclerosis. Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune cells start destroying myelin sheath. Myelin is responsible for protecting the nerve fibers. As a result of this disease, the nerve fibers start degenerating resulting in a variety of symptoms. Being an autoimmune disorder, MS does not have a cure and treatments are aimed at managing the symptoms when they flare up.[2,3]

In order to study the risk of childhood concussion leading to multiple sclerosis, Dr. Montgomery with his colleagues collected data from the Swedish Patients and Multiple Sclerosis registers and came up with around 7000 patients with MS. All these patients were born on or after 1964 and the diagnosis was made in between the year of their birth and 2012. Each patient with this neurological disorder was matched by gender, birth year, age at which the diagnosis was made, and their place of residence and compared with 10 people who did not have a diagnosis of MS. The study had a total of about 80,000 participants.[2,3]

The researchers also used the database to look for any potential diagnosis of concussion at an earlier age in all people who had a known diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. After carefully analyzing the data, it was found that there was no direct link between childhood concussion and increased risk of multiple sclerosis later in life. However, what emerged was that people who had at least one episode of concussion in their teenage years were at least 22% more likely to develop MS later in life while this risk was much more in people who had more than one concussion episode in their childhood years.[2,3]

It was also observed that 57% of people with MS had no prior history of concussion. Thus they concluded that childhood concussion may be a contributing factor in the development of MS later in life as the number of cases of MS with a history of childhood concussion was very less.[2,3]

Previous research has shown that any trauma to the head triggers an immune response that may inflict damage to the brain. The authors of the research mention that any head trauma including concussion in adolescence specifically if it is a repeated trauma increases the risk of MS possibly as a result of triggering of an autoimmune response in the central nervous system.[2,3]

Dr. Montgomery states that the findings of his research give yet another reason for people to stay alert and avoid any repeated head injury in their growing years, specifically those that children and teenagers get in contact sports. What gave this study its strength is the fact that all the data was taken from hospital records and did not rely on patient information. However, as the number of patients who had more than one concussion was quite less statistical analysis had been a challenge for them.[2,3]

They have also shed light on various causes as to why childhood concussion increased the risk of MSD later in life. This included nerve tissue damage due to the trauma that triggered an abnormal immune response that contributed to the development of MS later in life. Additionally, they also mentioned that the head trauma causes inflammation in the brain that increases the likelihood of MS later in life.[2,3]

Even though the percentage of people who had teenage concussion and later on developed MS was quite less, the study definitely gave another reason to protect the children from head injuries and concussion, especially when they are into contact sports like rugby and football, along with other activities that may put them at risk for a head injury.[2,3]

This may just be a small step towards preventing MS in some people but a broader approach is required to take care of the other well known risk factors of multiple sclerosis.[2,3]

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