What’s Happening to Our War and Sports Heroes?

With the deployment of US soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan in the past decade and the recent untimely deaths of professional athletes, such as Junior Seau and Derek Boogaard, the problems with traumatic brain injury are quickly becoming a major issue discussed on a daily basis.

Traumatic Brain Injury, most commonly referred to as TBI, is an overarching term for trauma that causes damage to the brain. TBI can be categorized as either an open head injury, where an object penetrates through the skull and into the brain, or a closed head injury, does not result in penetration, but can be just as severe. TBIs can range from being mild concussions to being an open injury or a closed injury with swelling. These injuries occur from a minor car accident, sports-related concussion, to severe assault.

It tends to be primarily an issue effecting males, as men are twice as likely to sustain a TBI in comparison to women. Males who sustain a TBI also have a higher rate of mortality when compared to females. According to the CDC, approximately 1.7 million people in the United States sustain a traumatic brain injury every year. It’s estimated that only 1.35 million of them seek care in the emergency room and released, 275,000 need to be hospitalized, and 52,000 die of the injuries sustained.

TBIs have a wide range of impact depending on what part of the brain sustains the injury and how severe the injury is. Early access to care is key. If a TBI is the suspected injury, it’s important to seek medical attention as soon as possible, because many people can go for years dealing with debilitating side effects and not realized they suffered a TBI.

It is becoming a growing issue in sports from the professional level all the way down to youth level. With the pressure to play sports being so high, often when players suffer from a mild concussion, they will be back in to play the next game. We see this pressure becoming even more of a problem in youth athletics, because the brain is still developing at the same time.

TBI’s range in severity and different impairments, it’s difficult to educate on what constitutes a TBI. Spreading awareness about the issue allows men to recognize how a TBI could happen, and therefore how important it is to seek medical attention in order to confirm any diagnosis.

Recently, Men’s Health Network, an national non-profit, educational health organization that works with men and their families in order to improve men’s health and over-all well being, partnered with the Men’s Health Caucus, led by Congressman Jon Runyan, to host a briefing on Capitol Hill about the new developments in TBI research. The event featured a presentation by Dr. Ann McKee of Boston University about the pathology and prevalence of the disease. Dr. McKee was joined by several panelists to answer questions about emerging ideas in TBI research and where that research will be heading in the future. We would like to thank Congressman Runyan, his staff, and the Men’s Health Caucus for hosting the briefing in order to bring more awareness to this growing issue.

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