A recent paper has highlighted a confusing aspect of brain injury research. This study asked several hundred people to take a survey designed to detect if symptoms of a past traumatic brain injury (TBI) are still present.
In those with a history of a TBI, 31% still had enough symptoms after 1 year to classify them as having persistent post concussion syndrome (PCS). But surprisingly, when people without a history of TBI were asked to take the same survey, 34% also had symptoms that met the pre-defined criteria for PCS.
Why are just many people are walking around with symptoms similar to persistent traumatic damage but without a history of a TBI? The answer is simple; they have brain damage from non-traumatic sources and very minor traumatic injuries that do not recover because of neuroinflammation and possibly from the neuroinflammation itself.
Studies in animals and humans are showing that intensely negative emotions can cause actual cellular damage to the brain. Presently we call these conditions Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, depression and PTSD.
And as I have discussed elsewhere, if an individual has abnormally activated microglia within their brain, they are less able to fully repair the damage from both traumatic and non-traumatic emotional injuries. I see this very frequently in my practice.
If a symptom-free individual goes through an intensely negative emotional event (e.g., death of a loved one, bullying, betrayal, molestation, rape, fear, bankruptcy), many will begin to experience a wide variety of symptoms within a few weeks, and their symptoms often correspond with the damage I’ll find on autonomic nervous system testing.
One of these emotional injuries alone seems to be able to cause as much autonomic damage as a full TBI with loss of consciousness. The damage from traumatic and emotional traumas are indistinguishable from one another on autonomic spectral analysis.
I believe, many have also suffered minor head injuries that are more akin to getting their “bell rung” when they struck in on the trunk of the car or an open kitchen cabinet door. These are so minor at the time most don’t even recall the event. In patients under my care, I have measured the autonomic damage these minor injuries can cause especially in a relatively fragile patients recovering from a brain injury.
Because of the neuroinflammation from activated microglia, the emotional injuries and minor head injuries are never fully repaired leading to the accumulation of damage. I refer to this as cumulative brain injury (CBI).
I believe cumulative brain injury is a massive, unrecognized health issue in our population, and is being driven by a variety of sources responsible for underlying neuroinflammation. Unresolved damage to the autonomic nervous system and other portions of the brain is responsible for attention deficit disorder, chronic depression, PTSD, generalized anxiety, migraine headaches, as well as inflated hunger that leads to obesity, diabetes, sleep apnea and many cancers.