The number of concussions being diagnosed in America is on the rise, especially among adolescents. Those are the findings of new research from UC San Francisco in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine this week.
“Our study evaluated a large cross-section of the U.S. population,” says lead author Alan Zhang, MD, UCSF Health orthopaedic surgeon. “We were surprised to see that the increase in concussion cases over the past few years mainly were from adolescent patients aged 10 to 19.”
While this may sound like cause for alarm, some believe the increasing number of concussions being diagnosed in recent years may be evidence that brain injury awareness and education efforts may be having a positive impact and leading more people to consult medical professionals when they believe they have a concussion.
For the study, Zhang and colleagues reviewed health records from over eight million members of the massive private payer insurance group Humana Inc. between 2007 and 2014.
The researchers categorized individuals under the age of 65 who were diagnosed with a concussion by year of diagnosis, age group, sex, concussion severity or classification, and health care setting of diagnosis (emergency department or physician’s office).
From the 8 million members reviewed, the team found 43,884 people diagnosed with concussion. Over half (55%) were male, with the highest rate found in the 15-19 age group. This age range saw 16.5 concussions per 1,000 patients, compared to 10.5 for people aged 10-14, 5.2 for those between the ages of 20-24, and 3.5 for children aged 5-9.
The majority (56%) of concussions were diagnosed in emergency departments, with 29 percent diagnosed in a physician’s office. The rest were diagnosed in urgent care or inpatient settings.
From 2007-2014, the researchers found a 60% increase in concussions occurring each year, with the largest increase for individuals between the ages of 10-14. This group saw a 143% increase, compared to 87% for those aged 15-19.
This group also had higher rates of concussion with loss of consciousness (LOC). Most estimates suggest approximately 10% of brain injuries include LOC, but 29% of concussions in individuals aged 10-19 were associated with LOC.
The team says one reason these ages are seeing such an increase is this is the age where participation in competitive sports increases. Joining school sports teams may also lead to the first formal concussion education for many players and parents.
While more concussions are being diagnosed than ever before, the findings should be taken as a positive indication that fewer brain injuries are being neglected or untreated.