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Post-Concussion Symptoms Without Head Injury Linked To Inflammation

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Researchers at McMaster University in Canada have been investigating why some people experience post-concussion symptoms even after trivial head injuries, or injuries to other parts of their bodies.

In an article published in the medical journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity, they said that inflammation is the key reason why these people can experience symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, cognitive impairment and other neuropsychiatric symptoms such as irritability, anxiety and insomnia.

Many of the situations in which these symptoms, known as post-concussion syndrome (PCS), may be experienced – such as infection and post-surgery – are associated with systemic inflammatory responses, and even neuroinflammation, the researchers explained.

After examining the evidence of neuroinflammation in PCS and the potential role systemic inflammation plays in PCS-like symptoms, the researchers concluded that a new umbrella term of post-inflammatory brain syndromes (PIBS) is necessary.

The concept of post-concussion syndrome is still evolving and the new term provides a better understanding of the cause of its symptoms and the wide array of conditions they can be seen in, they argued.

The researchers hope their work will encourage scientists to open up new lines of research into the cause of post-concussion symptoms in the absence of visible brain injury on conventional imaging and into the treatment of these symptoms by targeting inflammatory mediators.

For example, people who have a very subtle genetic change in a certain inflammatory protein have poorer recovery after brain injury, McMaster University pointed out.

The study also helps to explain why many social factors appear to play a role in the development of symptoms. “We know that the immune system can be modulated, or sensitised, by the current and even the previous environment an individual was in. These social factors, such as pre-existing stressors, depression or anxiety, may actually be, in a way, biological factors,” said lead author Michel Rathbone, a professor of medicine for McMaster´s Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine.

Rathbone added that the study provides hope for individuals with cognitive dysfunction after major infections, surgeries or traumas, as it suggests they may benefit from current and future treatments for concussion.