A new Seattle-led study calculates that 1.1 million to 1.9 million U.S. kids younger than 18 suffer concussions each year during sports and recreational activities. It’s the most accurate and precise estimate to date, experts said.
Between 1 million and 2 million children in the U.S. suffer concussions each year during sports or recreational activities, according to a Seattle-led study that has calculated the best estimate to date of the problem.
Experts say there has not been a reliable count of concussions in kids younger than 18, despite a surge of interest in the problem in the past decade.
So researchers at the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s, along with colleagues at the University of Colorado, analyzed three large data sets to come up with what they call “the most accurate and precise estimate to date.”
“This new information gives us a frame of reference for how common concussions in kids are,” said lead author Dr. Mersine Bryan, an acting instructor and research fellow in pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine and Seattle Children’s Research Institute.
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“It’s important on a population level because so many kids and adolescents participate in sports and recreational activities,” she added.
More than 44 million youth take part in sports annually, according to the National Council of Youth Sports.
The study, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, estimated 1.1 million to 1.9 million concussions occur in kids yearly during sports and recreation. But researchers also found that 512,000 to 1.2 million concussions are not reported to health-care providers.
That means that hundreds of thousands of children could be suffering injuries that can cause future problems with learning, memory, mood and more. And many may be at risk for what’s known as second-impact syndrome, which occurs when a person suffers a second concussion before the first one has healed. The brain swells rapidly, often leading to death, experts said.
“We cannot stress enough that a concussion is a euphemism for a brain injury,” said Dr. Brent Masel, national medical director for the Brain Injury Association of America.
“The most helpful aspect to this study is it’s startlingly clear how many kids are not being seen in the emergency rooms and are either not seen at all or are going to their family doctors.”
For years, the best estimate of the number of concussions in the U.S. each year came from a supplement to the 1991 Health Interview Survey, a federal report that has tracked the nation’s well-being since 1957.
It concluded there were between 1.6 million and 3.8 million sports- and recreation-related traumatic brain injuries, or TBIs, in the U.S. each year. But that estimate included adults and had other methodological problems, Bryan said.
To gather the new numbers, the researchers analyzed data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), a federal database that includes a sample of hospitals from the U.S. and its territories. They also looked at MarketScan, a database run by Truven Health Analytics that includes commercial health-insurance claims from about 30 million people in the U.S., and at the National High School Sports Related Injury Surveillance system, Reporting Information Online. Known as High School RIO, it’s an internet-based data collection tool that tracks injuries reported by athletic trainers.
Tracking concussions in all children, not just school-aged athletes, can provide better information for parents, doctors and public-health researchers, Bryan said.
If nothing else, it should remind parents that concussions can occur in children of all ages and may be potentially serious.
Typical symptoms of concussion include headache, dizziness and fatigue after a knock to the head. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents seek medical advice for anything more than a light bump on the head.
“If parents suspect that their child may have a concussion, they should be in contact with their primary care provider,” Bryan said.