WEDNESDAY, April 18 (HealthDay News) -- Professional fighters may hit a threshold -- a specific number of fights and years in the ring -- where they can no longer take blows to the head without brain damage, a new study suggests.
But, once they cross that threshold, years might pass before symptoms show.
"The brain can tolerate or absorb a certain amount of trauma and repair itself," explained study author Dr. Charles Bernick. The findings raise the question of whether -- and when -- fighters should be medically screened, so changes could be caught earlier and available treatment offered, he said.
It's already well documented that "the more exposure you have to head trauma, the higher your risk of developing long-term complications. Primarily, this condition is chronic traumatic encephalopathy," said Bernick, associate director of the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.
Also known as Boxer's Syndrome, chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a degenerative brain disease that causes the same kinds of thinking difficulties and personality changes seen with Alzheimer's disease.
As part of an ongoing study on brain health, the researchers divided 109 licensed boxers and mixed martial artists into three groups: those who had fought for less than six years, six to 12 years or more than 12 years. Their average age was about 29.
Participants underwent MRI scans to measure their brain volume and tests of their thinking and memory.
"In those that fought less than six years, we didn't find any changes," Bernick said. For that group, he said, "the more you fought didn't seem to make any differences in the size of brain structure or their performance on some of the tests like reaction time."
But for the other two groups of boxers and combat athletes, "the greater number of fights, the sizes of certain volumes of the brain were decre
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