Concussion in teenagers increases the risk of multiple sclerosis (MS) in later life. However, there is no association with MS for concussion in younger children. This was reported by a new study, led by Scott Montgomery, Professor at Örebro University.

The results demonstrate how important it is to protect teenagers from head injuries. “Bicycle helmets are one way, and we should consider head injury risk in sports played by adolescents,” says Scott Montgomery.  

The study was published in the Annals of Neurology and it comes from a collaborative study between Örebro University and Karolinska Institutet, which showed concussion in adolescence increased the risk of MS in later life by 22 percent for one concussion, and teenagers who experienced two or more concussions were at more than a doubled risk of MS – 133 percent.

But not all teenagers run the same risk:

“MS is caused by a combination of genetic susceptibility and environmental exposures. Most of the young people who experience a head trauma should not worry as they will not carry the necessary genes and other risks that will result in MS in later life,” says Scott Montgomery.

Nerve cells under attack

The researchers used medical records to identify concussion treated in the hospital among children from birth to age 10 years, and in adolescence from ages 11 to 20. The risk of MS in later adulthood was examined for these two groups.

“We think that concussion among adolescents can indicate the processes that cause the body’s immune system to attack the insulating layer of nerve cells which, over time, prevent them from functioning correctly,” says Scott Montgomery. 

Erika Lyons Richardson recently interviewed Professor Scott Montgomery of the  Örebro University in Sweeden about this interesting new research study.

She also interviewed two patients living with multiple sclerosis who suffered concussions. The first was Debbie Jones who was diagnosed with MS in 2016.  Debbie suffered a concussion at the age of 10 when she was thrown forward from a bicycle after doing stunts on a speed bump.

“I went over … and popped my head.  That’s all I remember from that point.”

Erika Richardson also spoke with patient Kimberly Houston who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2017 at the age of 24. Kimberly has been diagnosed with concussion three times.  The first at 6 months old from a fall, the second at the age of 12 when she was hit in the head with a rock, and lastly at the age of 18 after a vehicle accident.

The study led by Professor Scott Montgomery has trigger new dialog within families and in the MS Community social media forums reguarding the association between concussion and multiple sclerosis.

Erika Richardson concluded her interview with Kimberly Houston by asking her if she had ever related her multiple sclerosis to her concussions earlier in life.

“Not until about a week ago when I read the study summary.”