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Brain injury may lead to heart disease: study

Traumatic brain injury (TBI), a common cause of disability and mortality among military personnel and sportspeople, reports researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women's Hospital in a study published in Lancet Neurology revealed a long-term link between TBI and heart disease.

The study further found that TBI patients experience neuroinflammation, neurological disorders, changes in the brain-gut connection, and post-traumatic comorbidities, increasing their risk of developing cardiovascular conditions.

Commenting on the findings, lead author Dr Saef Izzy, from the Stroke and Cerebrovascular Centre of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and founding member of the Mass General Brigham healthcare system, said, "Despite decades of extensive traumatic brain injury-focused research, surprisingly, there has been minimal progress in mitigating long-term outcomes and mortality following injuries. The cardiovascular effects of TBI may be a missing link in advancing our efforts to improve long-term quality of life and reduce mortality rates in TBI patients.”

“We have the opportunity to identify and improve targeted screening for high-risk populations, build preventative care strategies, and improve outcomes for survivors of TBI,” he added.

Dr. Saef Izzy and co-author Dr. Ross Zafonte, President of the Spaulding Rehabilitation Network and Chief of the Departments of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, note that non-neurological effects can contribute to neurodegenerative diseases. For instance, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and other cardiac conditions increase the risk of dementia.

According to the researchers, TBI-related neuroinflammation, weight gain and sleep difficulties, increase the risk of heart disease. Changes in the gut bacteria can disrupt the neurological and gastrointestinal systems, increasing the risk of heart disease.

 Researchers said that they are working to develop a new model to unravel the biological mechanisms underlying cardiovascular conditions.

However, they further note that the present study had limitations due to methodological constraints and dependency on self-reported health data.

Dr. Ross Zafonte stated that this study is a wake-up call for patients suffering from TBI who may have a high risk of cardiac disorders.

He suggested using new and extended datasets to study the biological indicators and targets related to cardiac conditions.

Pointing out the research, Dr. Zafonate said, “There is a growing recognition that many systems interact to produce multilevel dysfunction after TBI, with a series of nuanced comorbidities. Clinicians can begin to treat some of these conditions, and in the future, management guidelines can more directly address the cardiovascular health of TBI survivors.”

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