The football post-season is almost upon us, but the National Football League has attracted negative attention recently with reports of brain injuries among professional football players being ignored. A study this past autumn found that the blows to the head associated with college and professional athletics, especially football, leads in many cases to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which affects behavior, mood, memory, and cognitive abilities.
However, even mild brain trauma can cause significant, permanent damage. Bruising and other physical damage to the brain tissue can have long-lasting effects that may not be apparent for months or even years. Scientists are still studying how the brain heals itself, and why it sometimes doesn’t. However, it is known that someone who might have a concussion should be observed for at least 24 hours after the injury for signs of danger.
If an adult has experienced head trauma, they need immediate emergency care if they have slurred speech, nausea or vomiting, a headache that doesn’t stop or gets worse, or weakness or poor coordination. Other warning signs include convulsions, seizures, unusual behavior including getting restless or agitated, or losing consciousness, however briefly. These could be signs of a dangerous blood clot in the brain.
In general, people who’ve had a head injury should be given medical attention even if there is no apparent damage and they show no symptoms. A health care professional can make sure that intracranial pressure doesn’t go too high, which can block blood flow in the brain, leading to stroke. High pressure in the brain can also interfere with the removal of waste products, and hasten the onset of dementia or otherwise cause cognitive problems. If treatment is provided, most people with mild brain injury will recover in about three weeks, and even moderate injuries rarely stop people from leading normal lives.
Further research into the effects of traumatic brain injuries is supported by the National Football League itself, which in response to recent pressure has put $30 million into research into identifying and treating complications. One priority for recipients of these research grants is identifying encephalopathy in living patients, not just through autopsy.