Why You Need to Take a Concussion Much More Seriously

football player wearing a red helmet and jersey

Many athletes have gotten a concussion playing football | iStock.com

Taking a hit to the head is almost expected for kids horsing around or athletes involved in contact sports, so most of us act as though a concussion is the same as a bruised knee. It’s no big deal. You get up, shake it off, take a breather, then you’re good to go. But what if it is a big deal? What if that bump in the noggin leads to serious medical conditions down the road?

More and more research is finding suffering a concussion drastically increases your odds of suffering from various neurodegenerative diseases. The NFL has found itself facing scores of lawsuits filed by former players and their families seeking damages for life-altering brain injuries incurred from career-related concussions. Though the league denied the accusations for years, there was no ignoring the problem when an in-depth analysis revealed almost one-third of retired players will suffer from cognitive issues. The findings also clearly stated the former football stars will face these brain problems significantly sooner in their lives than the general population.

Neurodegenerative disorder is a catch-all term that covers everything from Alzheimer’s disease to Parkinson’s disease. The conditions vary, but ending up with any of them is life changing in the worst way. Many studies surrounding the links between these diseases and head injuries have focused on retired NFL players specifically, including one that found they’re four times more likely to die from Alzheimer’s disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) than the general U.S. population. Trying to wave off the risk as something only those who wear shoulder pads and helmets as part of their job is foolish, though, because anyone who’s suffered a concussive event is in danger.

x-ray images of brain

X-ray of a head | iStock.com

At the end of 2013, Neurology published a study that took a closer look at the link between impaired cognitive function and concussions in a general population sampling from Olmsted County in Minnesota. Researchers discovered individuals suffering from mild cognitive impairment who reported some sort of head trauma had more amyloid deposits in their brains, which are associated with Alzheimer’s disease, than those who hadn’t suffered from injuries.

Soccer and football are usually blamed for concussions among children, which makes sense for activities that can be so rough. Still, just about any sport you can think of carries some risk of concussion. Those who suffer a head injury while participating in gymnastics or swimming may even be more at risk because they could be less likely to believe it’s serious enough to be a concussion. Research suggests brain injuries are underreported, even among those who play contact sports.

For certain individuals, negative consequences from head trauma are even more immediate. Some doctors have found patients, including teenagers, are more likely to develop anxiety disorders and depression when a concussion isn’t allowed to heal properly. This can happen even when patients have no history of mental illness.

image of crinkled paper forming a brain to indicate injury or brain damage

Brain made out of paper to indicate Alzheimer’s disease | iStock.com

It’s also worth mentioning some folks suffer multiple concussions, which is typical in the NFL cases. Simply put, the more head injuries a person suffers, the worse the outcome. This is why getting proper treatment and allowing a concussion to heal is so important.

It all starts with taking into account any symptoms you experience after a hit to the head. They’re not usually outlandish, so it’s easy brush off a headache or feeling of fogginess as normal. If you notice any difference in the way you feel after the event, take it seriously and head to the doctor. You’re more likely to get hurt again if you try to get back to your regular activities when suffering from a concussion, so follow your physician’s orders.

It should go without saying that any athlete should use the proper protective gear, but that goes for regular Joes as well. If you participate in an activity that offers some sort of headgear, protect your noggin no matter how goofy you think the helmet looks. The same goes for biking. Looking slightly nerdy is a small price to pay.