Athletes’ Ideas of Concussions Don’t Match The Accepted Medical Definition

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While recent studies have indicated that increased awareness of concussions and their symptoms is facilitating increased levels of treatment for the mild traumatic brain injuries, a new study shows there is still a great deal of progress to be made. Specifically, despite awareness efforts, the study found that athletes do not have the same understanding of a concussion and its effects as the formally accepted medical definition of the injury.


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“This study indicates that researchers and clinicians cannot assume that athletes have a clear understanding of the definition of concussion. It is necessary, therefore, to prompt athletes with a current definition when asking about their concussion histories. In a research setting, it is also critical that the definition used be reported in the published findings,” Clifford A. Robbins, MD, and colleagues wrote.

The researchers conducted telephone-based structured interviews as part of a cross-sectional study of former and current athletes who participated in the Longitudinal Evaluation to Gain Evidence of Neurodegenerative Disease (LEGEND) 15 project.

The team interviewed 472 athletes between January 2010 and January 2013, in which they asked participants to report how many concussions they have received in their lifetime. Then, the interviewers read participants a current definition of concussion and asked them to re-estimate the number of concussions they have suffered according to that definition.

According Robbins and colleagues findings, 17 of the 472 athletes interviewed reported they had never experienced a concussion during their athletic career. But, after being given the current medical definition of a concussion, only four still maintained to have gone without a brain injury.

“Our results suggest that simply providing a current definition of a concussion to at-risk populations may help increase proper identification of these types of injuries through recognition of concussion symptoms. Future research should aim to assess how robust this education effect is over time, and whether it can have effects comparable to those of more time- and resource-intensive concussion education programs,” Robbins and colleagues wrote.

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