College football players may be dealing with the effects of concussions before the season even starts
At this point, the fact that professional football players are at risk for long-term effects of brain injuries is common knowledge. Despite this, the risks for younger athletes are far less known. Now, a recently published study has uncovered signs that college athletes may similarly be experiencing lasting effects of traumatic brain injuries.
The findings are based on tests measuring levels of biomarkers in the blood called microRNA’s, which they believe are linked to cognitive, memory, and balance issues. Surprisingly, the team found that the college football players showed overall higher levels of the biomarker and lower scores on cognitive tests before the season ever began.
“It was quite shocking to learn that the biomarkers were high before they were even involved in one hit or tackle for the season,” said Linda Papa, M.D., lead author of the study and emergency medicine physician at Orlando Health. “This suggests that the effects of past head injuries are persisting over time.”
The researchers even found higher levels of the microRNA’s in athletes who reported never experiencing a concussion:
“Some of these players had never been diagnosed with a concussion but they still had elevated biomarker levels in their blood, indicating they likely experienced head injuries that were not severe enough to be clinically diagnosed, but still caused damage. These injuries are also known as subconcussive injuries,” said Papa.
While the most obvious symptoms of concussions like headaches, dizziness, and nausea typically disappear within a week or two of the injury, a growing number of studies have found evidence that cognitive performance may continue to be impacted for up to a year later. Papa hopes that tests like blood biomarker assessments can help identify these deficits and provide a more detailed understanding of a person’s injury and recovery.
“We’re hoping that the biomarkers are actually going to give us a quantity of injury, rather than just saying whether this a concussion or not,” said Papa. “We can say to these players, ‘Yes, I can see you have had an injury because the levels of the biomarkers are elevated, and now we are going to help you.'”