Concussion is a brain injury. It most often happens after a blow to the head. It causes health problems like headaches and trouble with memory and balance.
People who suffer concussions don’t always lose consciousness, so someone can have one and not realize it.
According to a new Health of America study by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA), the number of diagnosed concussions among Americans grew 43 percent from 2010 to 2015.
The study found that concussion diagnoses among teens have skyrocketed. The number of diagnosed concussion for people ages 10 through 19 increased 71 percent from 2010 to 2015.
In Montana, concussion rates for those in the 10-to-19 age group grew 92 percent between 2010 and 2015. For all people under age 65, the rate grew 44 percent during that time.
Many concussions result in post-concussion syndrome, a complex health issue. For those with this syndrome, headaches and dizziness can last for weeks or months.
The number of people across all age groups found to have post-concussion syndrome doubled between 2010 and 2015. In this period, 81 percent of people with concussion were also diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome.
For people ages 10 to 19, the fall is peak concussion season due to sports-related injuries. Concussion diagnoses for young males in the fall are nearly double that of young females.
Awareness of the seriousness of head injuries has grown in recent years. Some results of this increase in awareness include:
- “Shake-it-off” laws now help protect student athletes. Athletes often stay in the game even after they take a hit to their head or neck. This can make a head injury worse. The laws are meant to prevent further injury if an athlete shows any signs of concussion.
- In college football, the “Helmets Off” rule requires that a player leave the game for the next down if his helmet comes fully off through a play. This allows the equipment staff time to adjust the helmet for proper fit before the player returns to the game.
- The National Football League also made new rules. Now teams face large fines and even loss of draft picks if they fail to take players out of games after hits to their heads or necks.
More people now know that head injuries are serious. For example, news stories on concussion and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in football players have increased. This progressive disease is found in people with repeated brain trauma.
The first “shake-it-off” law began in 2009. That’s when the state of Washington passed the Zackery Lystedt Law. It was named after a football player who was permanently hurt after coming back to a game too soon. It calls for permission from a doctor before an athlete who might have a concussion returns to a game or practice.
Within five years, other states had passed similar rules. But concussion rates differ from state to state. More study on the contrasts in state rules and the number of people playing contact sports is needed to find out why.
The Health of America Report uses claims data to show key health care trends. This report looked at medical claims of 944,670 diagnosed concussions for Blue Cross and Blue Shield group members. For more information and to read past reports, visit bcbs.com/healthofamerica.
Sources: “The Steep Rise in Concussion Diagnoses in the U.S.,” Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, The Health of America Report, 2016; Boston University CTE Center; Mayo Clinic, 2014; NCAA Sports Science Institute, 2012; “N.F.L. Introduces New Rules to Back Its Concussion Protocol,” The New York Times, July 25, 2016