ZocdocAnswersWhy can't they tell if a brain has been affected by concussions until after you're dead?

Question

Why can't they tell if a brain has been affected by concussions until after you're dead?

I've had like 4 concussions from playing sports. I'm a 27 year old guy and read that they can't tell what concussions do to your brain until they look at after you're dead. Is this true? Can a doctor tell me if something is wrong with my brain?

Answer

We do know a lot about what concussions do to the brain in fact. A concussion is basically a minor form of brain injury, usually caused when the skull is struck, which allows the brain to slam in to the skull, causing bruising or swelling. What we know about concussions is that repeated concussions (that is, repeated minor brain injuries) can lead to permanent or long-term problems with memory and with other cognitive tasks, as well as chronic headache and mood problems. Over the long term, we also know that concussions increase your risk of developing more serious brain disorders, such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's (the rate of these conditions is higher in foot ball players and boxers, for example). What your doctor means by saying that they can't tell what a concussion does to your brain until you're dead is that we do not routinely biopsy the brain to look for evidence of disease. However, this does not mean that we cannot diagnose clinical problems resulting from brain injury - like those I describe above. You should definitely have a thorough checkup by your primary care doctor or neurologist to make sure you are not suffering any long term consequences.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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