A new study has warned that concussions in adolescents, common with young athletes, could increase the risk of developing Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in later life.
Swedish scientists recently published the results of their study in Annals of Neurology, revealing that although the overall chances of a young athlete developing MS still remains low, the risk of MS, an autoimmune nervous system disorder with an unknown cause, was especially high if an athlete had suffered more than one head injury.
According to The New York Times, concern has centred on possible links between repeated concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. This is a serious, degenerative brain disease that affects the ability to think.
With more and more young people, including children, being diagnosed with concussions, some experts have suggested links between an injury early in life and a later diagnosis of MS, but so far there is no confirmed medical evidence to prove this.
It’s crucial that adolescents are checked by a medical professional when suffering a head injury. If concussion was to go unreported on a patient’s medical record, doctors could miss a potential diagnosis of MS in later life.
Past studies with animals have shown that trauma to the central nervous system, including the brain, may jump-start the kind of autoimmune reactions that underlie MS.
Scientists at Orebro University and the Karolinska Institute reported adolescents who had experienced one concussion were 22 percent more likely to later develop MS than those who had not had such head trauma. The risk rose by about 150 percent if a young person had sustained multiple concussions.
Scott Montgomery, a professor of clinical epidemiology at Orebro University, who led the study, said: “Adolescent brains seem to be less physiologically resilient than those in younger children, making them potentially more vulnerable to long-term consequences from concussions than children.”
“Physical activity and participation in sports should be encouraged in young people, but we should try to minimize the risk of young people experiencing head injuries”, he continued.
Professor Montgomery added: “For those who might have had a concussion or three during youth, talk with your doctor, especially if you are experiencing any symptoms such as double vision, dizziness or balance problems.”
The study is only observational, so while it can link concussions in youth to a greater risk of MS, it cannot prove that one causes the other. The findings remain important but cautionary.