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Concussions, other brain injuries prompt more patients to visit the ER

The number of ER patients treated for head injuries rose eight times faster than total ER visits, study finds
Growing concern about concussions may have prompted more patients to seek medical treatment
Preventing traumatic brain injuries in the youngest and oldest patients is biggest public health challenge

Concussions are a growth industry for hospital emergency rooms in the U.S., according to a new report.

Between 2006 and 2010, the total number of visits to emergency departments in a nationwide sample of hospitals grew by 3.6%. During that same period, the number of visits by patients seeking treatment for a traumatic brain injury grew by 29.1%, researchers report in Wednesday’s edition of the Journal of the American Medical Assn.

The eight-fold increase in TBI patients could be due to a number of factors, the researchers wrote. There may be an actual increase in the number of head injuries suffered by patients, or the figures may be a sign that Americans are taking these injuries more seriously and getting treatment for things they would have blown off in the past. It’s certainly possible that both factors are at play, they wrote.

The researchers, from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School, used data from the Nationwide Emergency Department Sample to assess visits to ERs. The sample includes information from more than 950 hospitals across the country. The researchers zeroed in on patient visits for concussions, skull fractures, cerebral lacerations and contusions, various types of hemorrhages, other brain injuries and unspecified head injuries.

The growth in TBI treatment was mainly due to patients with concussions (whose incidence grew by 22%) and unspecified head injuries (whose incidence grew by 38%), according to the JAMA report. There was also a nearly 8% rise in the incidence of skull fractures.

The proportion of traumatic brain injuries classified as “minor” grew slightly, from 85.4% in 2006 to 87.3% in 2010. In addition, the proportion of patients who had a “routine discharge” after being seen in the ER grew from 75.2% to 81.3% in the same period.

When examined by age group, the largest increases in TBI-related visits were among children younger than 3 and adults over 60, the researchers found. They interpreted that as a sign that people in these age groups “do not benefit as much from public health interventions, such as concussion and helmet laws and safer sports' practices.”  

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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