PEORIA - Sports-related concussions are a problem that's impacting athletes of all ages. But just how much and how long can injuries affect a player's health?
More and more we're seeing serious health issues linked to sports-related concussions. And one local doctor wants people to know how serious those problems can be down the road.
Dr. Dzung Dinh, a neurologist at the Illinois Neurological Institute in Peoria, is leading a study on the impact of repeated head injuries for local players. He's currently surveying multiple college and high school athletes playing contact sports in the Peoria area. He says his findings are something more athletes should know.
"When these high school and college and eventually professional players sustain multiple concussion injury, it's added effect overtime," he said.
Dinh, also a professor at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Peoria, showed WMBD 31 News a series of photographs which compared healthy brains to those of athletes who sustain repeated head injuries.
"You can see the brain is a lot smaller. There's evidence of atrophy, meaning brain cells are lost, actual brain damage and cells are lost," he said.
Another slide showed how a brain can change over time. Overtime, an athlete's brain can accumulate a series of dark spots. Those brown-like dots are a build-up of proteins, called Tau proteins, believed to be the cause of a degenerative brain disease called CTE.
"What we see in big picture, the physiological manifestation of this abnormal accumulation of Tau proteins, that we think are caused by repetitive brain injury from impact sport," he said.
According to Dinh, these results are similar to people with Alzheimer's disease and sometimes lead to shocking behaviors like depression and loss of logical control. His research matches what doctors found in the brain of former football star Junior Seau. Thursday, doctors confirmed the former San Diego Chargers player suffered from CTE, likely caused by repeated head injury. Last year, Seau died from a single gunshot wound to the head. Seau reportedly was never diagnosed with a concussion. But Dinh says he does not believe those reports, and Seau likely did not report his injuries.
"That's the problem, even at the level of high school. Players, they don't report it - these concussions. They don't want to be taken out of play," he said.
He says too many athletes don't know the risks, adding that in case of a concussion, brain cells are damaged or possibly killed during impact. But Dinh says it does not stop there, claiming brain cells continue to die over a period of time and well after the impact.
"They do not think that it's serious because they recover fully, but the damage has already been done," he said.
If athletes knew that, he says maybe more would take head injury serious.
Dinh says many athletes have a misconception that loss of consciousness is the only indicator for a concussion. But that's not true. Disorientation, memory loss, headaches and lack of focus are also symptoms, even if for a few minutes, he said.
He suggests any player with similar symptoms to report to coaches and doctors. He also thinks players who sustain two concussions in one season should not be allowed to return until the following year.