Study Finds Traumatic Brain Injuries More Common Than Once Thought

Scientists and medical professionals understand a lot more about the long-term effects of traumatic brain injuries now than they did even just a few years ago. However, until recently, most didn't have a good understanding of how frequently these injuries occur.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic recently took on this issue, and their findings show that traumatic brain injuries occur much more frequently than was previously thought.

The researchers devised a new method for classifying head injuries into categories of "definite," "probable" and "possible" TBI, based on patients' reports of symptoms including unconsciousness, dizziness or nausea.

They then used this method to review a collection of medical records that spanned several decades. In doing so, they found that TBIs may occur in as many as 558 per 100,000 people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention previously estimated the rate to be about 341 per 100,000 people. Approximately 60 percent of the brain injuries the Mayo Clinic researchers identified fell outside of the CDC's standard categorization metrics.

RISK FACTORS FOR TBI

Traumatic brain injuries can occur when the head strikes a hard surface or when a deceleration-type injury causes the brain to move around inside the cranial cavity. They are frequently seen in motor vehicle accident victims and in athletes who play contact sports.

The researchers found that some groups of people like men and the elderly are more at risk for TBIs than others. Young people, however, were more likely to report symptoms that indicated a "possible" brain injury.

WILL STUDY LEAD TO BETTER CARE?

In the wake of the findings, many are beseeching the CDC to revise its brain injury classification system. They hope that a better understanding of TBI frequency will translate to more effective methods for preventing and treating brain injuries.

The findings should also serve as a reminder to all of us that brain injuries aren't always obvious after an accident. If you are concerned that you or a loved one may have suffered a brain injury - for example, because you are experiencing nausea, headaches, dizziness or unexplained changes in mood or cognition - be sure to seek help from a medical professional.

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