The Silent Impact of Concussions on Cardiovascular Health and Athletic Performance
Concussions often bring to mind immediate concerns such as headaches, dizziness, and cognitive issues. However, there’s a less-discussed but equally significant aspect of concussions that athletes and other individuals should be aware of–the profound impact on cardiovascular health and athletic performance.
How the Brain and Body Works
Our body functions like a well-orchestrated symphony, with the brain as the conductor, directing a complex interplay of signals that affect our cardiovascular system. This regulation occurs through two primary mechanisms: Feedforward Regulation, often referred to as “Central Command,” and Feedback Regulation, which operates as reflexes.
Central Command: Preparing the Body
Think of Central Command as the brain’s way of preparing the body for anticipated demands, such as exercise or situations requiring increased cardiovascular activity. It issues proactive signals to the heart and blood vessels, priming them for action.
Feedback Regulation: Real-Time Adjustments
On the other hand, Feedback Regulation acts like a rapid-response team. It makes real-time adjustments to your heart rate and blood pressure, responding to shifts in your body’s requirements to maintain equilibrium.
So, what happens when a concussion enters the picture?
Concussion and Cardiovascular Health
The Disruptive Effect of Concussions
Concussions can disrupt this delicate dance between the brain and the cardiovascular system, potentially affecting athletic performance and overall health. This disruption might manifest as symptoms like dizziness, fatigue, and even irregular heart rhythms.
For athletes, this disruption can be particularly concerning, as it can lead to diminished physical capabilities and a more challenging path to recovery. But, it’s not just athletes who should be concerned. Anyone who has experienced a concussion may encounter similar challenges.
What to Do if You Experience These Effects
First, remember–concussions are treatable injuries. You can and will heal. Second, do what everyone should do after any concussion–seek help from a concussion specialist.
Studies show seeking an assessment from a concussion specialist within the first 4 days of injury improves your recovery timeline and can reduce the likelihood of lingering symptoms. In the case of cardiovascular-like concussion symptoms including dizziness and fatigue, a specialist will be able to identify the potential causes of your symptoms. This is key because some of the more common concussion symptoms can be related to one or more affected systems. Working with a concussion-literate provider helps ensure your rehab is focused on the appropriate systems for your individual case.
Your body operates with intricate precision, and your brain acts as the conductor of this complex orchestra. Safeguarding your brain’s health isn’t just about avoiding head injuries; it’s about preserving your cardiovascular fitness and overall health, as well as ensuring peak athletic performance. Without properly addressing the systems involved in post-concussion symptoms, your cardiovascular and athletic performance may always lag behind pre-injury levels.
Awareness of the potential impact of concussions on cardiovascular health is crucial, whether you’re an athlete or someone seeking to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle. Seeing a specialist within the first few days of injury will reduce your recovery time and help identify the factors behind your symptoms, no matter what system is experiencing issues. The brain and body work in harmony, and working with a specialist who understands this connection is vital for long-term well-being of all concussed individuals.
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Dampney RA. Central neural control of the cardiovascular system: current perspectives. Adv Physiol Educ. 2016 Sep;40(3):283-96. doi: 10.1152/advan.00027.2016. PMID: 27445275.