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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Are concussions more dangerous for kids?

File:Concussion Anatomy.png
Image by Concussion mechanics.svg, 5/18/2012

Concussions (aka mild traumatic brain injuries) are the result of the brain slamming against the inside of the skull. This can be caused either by rapid deceleration of the entire body or by direct impact to the head. Either way, the brain has a bruise that must heal. Opinions differ on how long that recovery takes, and on whether some groups, particularly children, are more vulnerable during the healing process. 

To answer this question, scientists from the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine compared ninety-two 13 to 16 year-old kids with the same number of 18 to 22 year-olds who had all suffered a sports related concussion. Each participant was evaluated for a number of different symptoms (headache, nausea, irritability, etc) and for how long it took for those symptoms to completely resolve.

Immediately after the head trauma, there was no difference in reported symptoms between the two groups. Younger and older people experienced the same number and severity of symptoms. By thirty days post concussion, nearly everyone (96% of the younger participants and 97% of older ones) had returned to normal. On average, the 13 to 16 year-olds took slightly longer than 18 to 22 year-olds to lose all their concussion symptoms (7 days rather than 6 days) but this was not statistically significant. In other words, there really wasn't much difference between young teens and young adults.

These data contradict other studies that show that concussions are more dangerous and long-lasting for younger people. I wonder if the differences between the groups discussed here would have become significant in a larger study group. In any case, coaches and parents should use extreme caution before sending young athletes back into play, especially during the first week.

Young M. Lee, Mitchell J. Odom, Scott L. Zuckerman, Gary S. Solomon,, & Allen K. Sills (2013). Does age affect symptom recovery after sports-related concussion? A study of high school and college athletes Clinical article Journal of Neurosurgery DOI: 10.3171/2013.7.PEDS12572.

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