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Welcome to Concussion Season

Oct. 21, 2016

Fall means football, and that brings the start of concussion season. And like the football flying off the hands of the quarterback, the number of people diagnosed with concussions is soaring.

Overall, the number of people diagnosed with concussions grew 40 percent from 2010 to 2015. The most dramatic uptick in concussion diagnoses in that time period was for patients ages 10 through 19. For them, concussion diagnoses jumped 70 percent.

These significant numbers are reported in a Health of America report released by Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association last week. The report analyzed data from almost a million claims of Blue Cross and Blue Shield members across the U.S.

The spike in diagnosis rates is likely due to growing awareness of the health dangers of concussions. In addition, state laws were passed to protect student athletes during that time.

  • Concussion rates for ages 10 to 19 increased 83 percent between 2010 and 2015. For all people under age 65, the rate increased 44 percent during that time.

Raising Awareness

Concussion is a brain injury, which most often happens after a blow to the head. Usually producing temporary health problems, concussions can cause headaches and problems with focus, memory, balance and coordination. People who suffer concussions don’t always lose consciousness, so someone can get a concussion and not realize it.

Some concussions result in post-concussion syndrome, a complex health issue with symptoms such as headaches and dizziness that can last for weeks or months after the injury. The percent of concussion patients of all ages diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome nearly doubled between 2010 and 2015.

Awareness of the seriousness of head injuries has grown.

Fueling the trend:

  • So-called ‘shake-it-off” laws to help protect student athletes who are often reluctant to leave a football game after sustaining a possible concussion.
  • The “Helmets Off” rule, requiring a player to leave the game for the next down if the player’s helmet comes fully off through a play.
  • Greater awareness after the National Football League, facing lawsuits from thousands of former players, adopted new rules. Now teams face large fines and possible loss of draft picks if they fail to take players out of games.
  • News reports on concussion and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in current and former football players. The progressive disease of the brain is found in athletes and others with repetitive brain trauma. It’s been in the news for years, said to be a cause in the deaths of nearly 100 professional athletes.

The ‘shake-it-off” law began in 2009, when the state of Washington passed the Zackery Lystedt Law. The broad law was named after a football player who was permanently disabled after prematurely coming back to a game after a concussion. It calls for medical clearance for young athletes suspected of having a concussion before they may return to a game or sports training.

In the five years after the law was approved, all states passed similar rules. But despite the laws, concussion diagnosis rates differ from state to state. More study on the differences in state rules and participation rates in contact sports is needed to understand the reasons for the differences.

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association’s monthly Health of America Report uses claims data to show key health care trends. For more information and to read past reports, visit bcbs.com/healthofamerica .

Find out more  about sports and concussions.

Boston University 

Mayo Clinic