Young Children Face Increased Risk of Behavioral Problems After Mild Head Trauma: Study

The risk of affective and behavioral disorders following a traumatic brain injury was highest among children 10 to 13 years old, researchers found.

Suffering a concussion or other blow to the head may increase the risk of depression and behavioral disorders among young children, according to the findings of a new study.

Kaiser Permanente researchers report that children face the greatest risk of developing affective or behavioral disorders within the first four years after suffering a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) or a typical concussion. In findings published in the journal Pediatrics on January 25, researchers report such injuries increase their risks of behavioral disorders by more than a third.

A TBI can occur when a person suffers a mild to severe blow to the head, including typical concussion or when a person hits their head during sports. However, prior research has linked TBIs to a slew of serious long-term side effects, including increased risk of suicide and heightened risk of stroke.

According to prior researcher published in 2020, individuals who suffer from TBIs have a 70% increased risk of being diagnosed with dementia or Parkinson’s disease and a 60% increased risk of being diagnosed with depression or anxiety later on.

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In this latest study, researchers from Kaiser Permanente Vallejo Medical Center in California focused on the relationship between mTBI and new affective or behavioral disorders. The cohort study included nearly 19,000 patients under 17 years old who suffered a mTBI from 2000 to 2014. They were compared to nearly 38,000 patients who did not suffer a mTBI.

The data indicated the risk of developing affective disorder increased by 34% among patients who suffered a mTBI. And the risk of affective disorder was greatest within the first three years of injury.

Similarly, the risk of suffering from behavioral disorders after a mild concussion was 37% higher, with the risk being the most significant at 2 and 4 years following injury.

“Sustaining an mTBI significantly increased the risks of having a new affective or behavioral disorder up to 4 years after injury,” the researchers determined. “Initial and ongoing screening for affective and behavior disorders following an mTBI can identify persistent conditions that may pose barriers to recovery.”

Overall, researchers said 10 to 13-year-olds who suffered mTBIs faced the highest risk of developing affective and behavioral disorders.

Affective disorders are mood disorders that can include major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder. They are marked by severe depressive lows and manic highs.

Behavioral disorders include conduct disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) disorder. It includes conditions that are marked by disruptive behavior, acting out, unwanted behavior towards others, and inattention.

According to previous studies, children who suffer concussions and head trauma are more likely to develop ADHD, depression, and other behavioral disorders later in life. TBI’s can lead to brain damage even after symptoms have subsided, some researchers have found.

Federal health experts warn parents, teachers, sports coaches, and other caregivers to learn to recognize the signs of TBI to avoid serious long-term side effects. Learning about the symptoms of head trauma can mean the difference between life and death and can also mean the difference between a life lived with long-term disability or not, they have said.

Researchers also recommend ongoing surveillance when a child or teen suffers any head trauma, and ongoing screening for behavioral and affective disorders to help implement treatment early.

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