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Memantine for TBI: Possible Benefits and Risks

Senior man tat home taking memantine pills for TBI

Can memantine treat the effects of TBI? Is it safe for patients to take memantine for TBI?

While there are fewer studies on the benefits of memantine for TBI than other medications, some of the results are promising. However, most of the benefits only appear during the initial stages of recovery.

To help you make an informed decision, this article will discuss the possible benefits and risks of using memantine for brain injury symptoms.

What is Memantine?

Memantine, also known as Namenda, is a drug used to treat the effects of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. It does not cure these disorders, but it can slow progression and improve certain cognitive skills such as memory and awareness.

Memantine belongs to a class of medications called NMDA receptor antagonists. These drugs work by decreasing abnormal activity in the brain. Specifically, memantine blocks the action of glutamate, a chemical linked to symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

Glutamate is a powerful neurotransmitter that excites neurons and helps them send signals between each other. In a healthy brain, it plays a crucial role in learning and memory.

However, too much glutamate in the brain can make the neurons over-excited, which eventually leads to cell death. This process, known as excitotoxicity, is one of the main causes of brain cell deterioration in Alzheimer’s patients.

Excitotoxicity also occurs after a traumatic brain injury.

Excitotoxicity After Brain Injury

3d illustration of neural synapses

The initial impact that causes a brain injury is not usually the source of the most severe symptoms.

Rather, TBI causes a cascade of harmful chemical processes in the brain. It’s these secondary injuries that lead to most of the problems associated with brain injury.

One of these harmful processes is an imbalance of glutamate.

Normally, there is a healthy balance between glutamate – which excites nerve cells – and GABA, which inhibits them. This keeps brain cells from burning out.

After a TBI, however, the brain releases more glutamate and less GABA, resulting in excitotoxicity. Researchers believe this is the main source of brain damage after a head injury.

Therefore, if that process could be halted before too many cells die, it could speed up TBI recovery and possibly prevent injuries from getting worse. That is where memantine may help.

Benefits of Memantine for TBI

Several studies have shown that memantine reduces neuronal damage in patients with moderate traumatic brain injury.

It does this by blocking the activity of glutamate in the brain, thus preventing the neurons from becoming over-excited.

There is also evidence that memantine may help improve outcomes in patients with multiple mild TBIs, though more research is still needed.

Side Effects of Memantine

Some of the side effects commonly associated with memantine for TBI include:

  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Headache
  • Hypertension
  • Fainting
  • Fatigue
  • Seizures

Memantine can also interact with drugs that are similar to it, such as amantadine or ketamine. Therefore, be careful not to take those at the same time.

Talk to your doctor before starting memantine to make sure none of your other medications will interact.

Bottom Line: Should You Try Memantine for TBI?

doctor talking to patient about memantine for TBI

Memantine appears to have neuroprotective properties and may help prevent some brain injury patients from deteriorating.

However, studies showing positive results have mostly been performed within a few days of a person’s injury. There are currently no studies that demonstrate benefits after this stage.

In other words, while memantine may help prevent a TBI from getting worse, it does not appear to help patients improve their cognitive function later on.

Therefore, if it has already been a few weeks or months since your injury, you are probably better off trying other medications, such as Ritalin.

As always, you and your doctor are the best ones to make this decision. But we hope this article has answered some of your questions surrounding memantine and TBI. Good luck!

©iStock/Jovanmandic

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