Scientists Are Still Working To Define Concussions

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It seems like everyone is familiar with concussions. We read about them all the time in sports, and most people know someone who has had one. It may be surprising then that researchers are still working to precisely define the brain injury.

It is known that concussions can cause sleep, memory and general thinking issues, as well as affecting moods. Concussions can also cause physical symptoms such as headache, vision problems, dizziness, nausea and tiredness. The actual symptoms vary from incident to incident, and sometimes appear immediately, while other times they may not appear for days.

Recent studies suggest young athletes tend to focus on the physical symptoms, while overlooking other less discernable issues. This also suggests that some sort of scale may be needed to evaluate just how severe certain concussions are.

There is already a differential established between two different types of incident, but they don’t really change the treatment at the moment.

There is the “knock-out” concussion, where the victim loses consciousness. It is easy to identify, but also a relatively rare occurance. Then there are all other concussions where the patient doesn’t lose consciousness.

Recently, Dr. Ann-Christine Duhaime, director of the Pediatric Brain Trauma Lab at Massachussetts General Hospital, released a statement about a study she led of 450 student-athletes. The statement also condensed the current state of concussion understanding.

“The term ‘concussion’ means different things to different people, and it’s not yet clear that the signs and symptoms we now use to make a diagnosis will ultimately prove to be the most important piece of this complicated puzzle,” Duhaime said.

The study was published in the October 2 Journal of Neurosurgery,  and it was part of a five-year investigation into the biomechanics of concussion. She fitted athletes with helmets, which were equipped with mechanics to record the frequency, magnitude, and location of head impacts during practices, scrimmages, and games.

Duhaim’s helmets recorded over 486,000 head impacts from the study of just 450 students.

Concussions were diagnosed in 44 of the athletes, with four diagnosed a second time during the study. Researchers did note that severe impacts were associated with the athletes with the most concussions, however, some concussions were diagnosed after relatively tame impacts.

31 of the 44 concussions could be linked to a specific hit. Only one of the athletes lost consciousness during their concussion, and only 6 of the concussions were diagnosed immediately by the athletic staff.

It is estimated as much as 85 percent of head injuries in the age range of 12-18 go unreported every year, but there are signs of progress. Emergency room visits for traumatic brain injuries in children and teenagers has gone up 60 percent over the last decade.

Clearly, awareness of concussions is increasing, but we also certainly need to make a lot more progress towards understanding the actual mechanics of concussions.

For more studies related to this issue, Lee Bowman, writer for The Republic, has a collection of the latest research findings.

 

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