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New study links concussions with increased risk of ‘major depressive symptoms’ and PTSD

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A study of over a thousand concussion sufferers showed increased risks of mental health problems between three and six months after injury.

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On January 30th, 2019, a study titled ‘Rick of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Major Depression in Civilian Patients After Mild Traumatic Brain Injury’ was published in the medical journal JAMA Psychiatry (h/t Bustle).

The study was conducted at University hospitals in California, Massachusetts, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania and included the University of California San Diego, La Jolla, Harvard Medical School, and Baylor College of Medicine. The study was also conducted at the Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Center at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center in San Francisco, CA.

During this study scientists examined 1,155 patients who had sustained a concussion — also known as a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) — and 230 patients with orthopedic injuries not involving the head. All of the patients were assessed for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depressive disorder (MDD). The assessments relied on specially-designed questionnaires and observations from medical professionals.

The results of the study showed that around 21% of patients with mTBIs experienced either PTSD or MDD symptoms up to six months after their injury. Only 12% of the patients with non head injuries experienced symptoms of PTSD or MDD.

A similar amount of patients who suffered mTBIs also reported symptoms of PTSD or MDD occurring three months after their injuries. Only 9% of patients with non-head injuries reported symptoms after three months.

Scientists stated that their study also lead to the identification of additional risk factors that could lead to PTSD for people who have suffered a mTBI. Those risk factors include low levels of education, self-reported psychiatric history, injuries resulting from assault or other violence, and being African-American.

In conclusion the new study stated:

After mTBI, some individuals, on the basis of education, race/ethnicity, history of mental health problems, and cause of injury were at substantially increased risk of PTSD and/or MDD. These findings should influence recognition of at-risk individuals and inform efforts at surveillance, follow-up, and intervention.

PTSD and MMD join chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) as conditions now shown to disproportionately affect individuals who have suffered head trauma. CTE is caused by corrupted proteins clumping together and eroding parts of the brain. That process is caused by both concussions/mTBIs and blows to the head which are not severe enough to elicit the kind of symptoms commonly associated with concussions.

The process of brain decay seen in CTE sufferers is extremely similar to what is observed in sufferers of Alzheimer’s Disease. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of CTE include cognitive impairment, impulsive behaviour, depression, apathy, short-term memory loss, emotional instability, substance abuse, aggression, dementia, and suicidal thoughts or behaviour.