PhotoThough concussions range in severity, and some consumers walk away relatively unscathed after one, the list of side effects that come after a head injury can be lengthy. 

Now, researchers from the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at Virginia Tech found that epilepsy is common after a brain injury, and it occurs because of the scars that form from brain cells known as astrocytes.

According to the researchers, astrocytes are affected differently depending on the severity of the brain injury, which also affects patients’ likelihood of developing epilepsy.

“Our experiments show a strong relationship between changes in astrocytes and the eventual occurrence of a seizure,” said researcher Stefanie Robel. “The findings point to a unique population of astrocytes that respond within 30 minutes of an injury being at the root of a problem where seizures may occur after a latency period of weeks or months, suggesting a therapeutic window to prevent seizure disorders after concussive injuries.”

Discovering the development of epilepsy

Following a brain injury, the researchers found that some astrocytes didn’t behave like they expected. However, this turned out to be normal; the cells were found to react differently depending on the severity of the injury.

To see this in action, the researchers conducted their experiment on mice, comparing those that never had seizures with those that eventually developed epilepsy.

Throughout their research, the group found that some of the mice experienced recurring seizures weeks after a brain injury, similar to human patients who develop epilepsy following a brain trauma, whereas some of the mice’s astrocytes were altered in different ways immediately after injury.

One of the biggest takeaways was that the researchers discovered the mice were most likely to become epileptic when clusters of astrocytes stopped functioning.

“Each of these astrocytes is connected to multiple neurons, which makes hundreds of thousands of connections, which means the loss of function of even of a few astrocytes can be devastating to other cells in the brain,” said researcher Oleksii Shandra.

“Not only have these astrocytes lost their function, but due to these altered connections, the effects can be widespread to brain cells far away. The degree of this astrocyte dysfunction might be something that defines whether epilepsy develops,” she said.

The researchers are hopeful that these findings can help physicians and researchers better understand epilepsy as it’s related to brain injury.

Things to be aware of

Both seizures and concussions come with associated health risks, and it’s important for consumers to be aware of any potential negative health effects.

A recent study found that epilepsy is on the rise, and experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are unsure why. The agency said that it is the fourth most common neurological disorder, with it affecting at least three million adults and nearly 500,000 children.

“Millions of Americans are affected by epilepsy, and unfortunately, this study shows cases are on the rise,” said then-CDC Director Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald. “Proper diagnosis is key to finding an effective treatment -- and at CDC we are committed to researching, testing, and sharing strategies that will improve the lives of people with epilepsy.”

Additionally, researchers found that children feel the effects of a concussion three times longer than teens or adults.

To help children who could be suffering with symptoms like dizziness, nausea, or fatigue, researchers suggest following the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) concussion recommendations for children, which urge physicians to treat every case individually, as the best treatments vary from child-to-child.

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