Minor Head Injuries 'Can still Cause Serious Brain Damage'

Study Finds Dangers Of Head Concussions May Be Greater Than Thought

21.07.2014

Significant brain damage can be caused by relatively minor accidents, new research has concluded.

A study carried out by researchers from the University of Newcastle and published in the US journal Neurology found that even milder forms of traumatic brain injury can lead to problems with thinking and memory.

The study compared 44 patients who had mild traumatic brain injuries with nine people with a moderate injury and 33 people with brain damage, all of whom had been treated by the Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. They had all suffered relatively minor incidents, varying from falls from ladders and vehicle crashes to being assaulted. All were discharged the same day or after a short stay for observation in hospital.

Tests included MRI scans and tests for memory skills, with 23 of those who had suffered some form of brain damage returning for repeats of the cognitive tests a year later.

In the initial tests, the average score in verbal fluency tasks was still 25 per cent below the norm for a healthy person. A year later, those who had suffered brain injuries or no injuries had the same scores, but those with minor injuries still showed some signs of damage.

This came in the form of disruption to nerve axons, the parts of nerve cells that enable brain cells to send messages to each other.

Study author Professor Andrew Blamire said: "These results show that thinking skills were recovering over time. The areas of brain damage were not as widespread across the brain as previously, which could indicate that the brain was compensating for the injuries."

The north-east of England may be emerging as a major centre for the treatment of brain injuries, particularly in the field of study of how one part of the brain may adjust to help compensate for a deterioration of function in another part.

A new MRI scanner located at the James Cook Hospital in Middlesbrough is being used by Durham University and South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to discover exactly how damage to one part of a brain can affect another area of the organ.

Expert Opinion
Through our work on behalf of people suffering brain injuries, we know how such issues can in some cases catastrophically transform people’s lives – often leaving them requiring long-term rehabilitation and support in order to get the very best from life.

"The only way that treatment for such issues is going to be improved is through research like this study, which has gone some way to identifying the effects that even a minor accident could have on memory and thinking.

"Studies like this are a vital step towards gaining a better understanding regarding head injuries, with the ultimate aim of using such information to improve the quality of treatments available to those affected. We hope that further research can build on this with the ultimate aim of ensuring injured victims can get the best and most effective support available."
Neil Whiteley, Partner