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More Kids Treated for Concussions in ERs: CDC

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Oct. 6 (HealthDay News) -- Over the past decade, the number of children treated in emergency rooms for traumatic brain injuries, including concussions, increased 60 percent, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2009, ERs in the United States saw 248,418 children with traumatic brain injuries compared to 153,375 similarly injured children in 2001. Most of the injuries are associated with physical activities, such as bicycling, football, playground accidents, basketball and soccer, the researchers said.

"One of the reasons for the increase is the increased awareness of the importance of the diagnosis and management of concussion," said lead author Dr. Julie Gilchrist, from the CDC Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention.

There may also be a slight increase in the actual number of concussions suffered by children and teens as more children participate in sports, but the CDC doesn't have numbers to back this up, she added.

"We hope increased awareness played a large role," she said.

Children and adolescents need more time to recover from a head injury and are at greater risk for serious complications, such as brain damage, than adults, the researchers said.

"Your kids need to be up and active, but we have to be aware that there are risks," Gilchrist said. "We need to find ways to prevent injuries and know what to do if an injury does occur," she said.

The report was published in the Oct. 7 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

These injuries varied by age and sex. Most injuries -- 71 percent -- involved boys, and 70.5 percent were among kids 10 to 19 years old, according to the report.

Injuries for children 9 and under came mostly from playground accidents or bicycling, the researchers noted.

Boys' head injuries mostly were associated with football or bicycling, while for girls, soccer, basketball and bicycling were the leading causes.

Although the symptoms of a traumatic brain injury may seem mild, they can lead to significant impairment of memory, behavior, learning, and/or emotions, Gilchrist noted.

Over the past 10 years, the CDC's Heads Up initiative has promoted awareness of traumatic brain injury. Its latest activity, a joint program with the National Football League and CDC Foundation, teaches health care professionals what they need to know about concussion in young athletes. This course is offered free online, Gilchrist said.

Dr. Anders Cohen, chief of neurosurgery and spine surgery at the Brooklyn Hospital Center in New York City, said when children sustain a head injury, "they need to stop that activity and be put on the sidelines and get a medical opinion -- that should be standard."

Concussions can have a cumulative effect, Cohen warned. "It's what I call 'the one-plus-one-equals-three phenomenon.' If you have one, the second one can be worse, especially if it happens closer to the first one where you haven't healed," he said.

Even though you cannot see a concussion, it must be treated like any obvious injury, or the consequences can impair the ability to think and function, Cohen said.

"A football game versus the next 70 years of their life is not a good tradeoff," he said. "The brain needs to heal; it needs to rest. Stop the activity, take the appropriate time to heal before getting back into the game."

Symptoms of a concussion can include: headache or pressure in the head, temporary loss of consciousness, confusion, amnesia, dizziness, ringing in the ears, nausea or vomiting, slurred speech or fatigue.

Someone who sustains a concussion may also have difficulty remembering or concentrating, and display irritability, sensitivity to light or noise, sleep disturbances and signs of depression. Even taste and smell can be affected.

More information

For more information on traumatic brain injury, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

SOURCES: Julie Gilchrist, M.D., Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Anders Cohen, M.D., chief, Neurosurgery and Spine Surgery, Brooklyn Hospital Center, New York City; Oct. 7, 2011, CDC, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report

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