Emergency room visits for kids with concussions skyrocketing

September 30, 2013

Researchers report a skyrocketing increase in the number of visits to the emergency department for kids with sports-related traumatic brain injuries (TBI), such as concussions.

The study, conducted by emergency physicians at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, shows that emergency visits for sports-related TBI increased 92 percent between 2002 and 2011.

The number of and teens admitted to the hospital with the same diagnosis also increased. That increase was proportionate to the increase in emergency department visits – about 10 percent. Patients admitted during the later years of the time period had less severe injuries and stayed in the hospital shorter amounts of time.

"More people are seeking care for TBI in the emergency department, and proportionately more are being admitted for observation," says Holly Hanson, MD, an fellow at Cincinnati Children's and lead author of the study. "Here in Cincinnati, we anticipate more children will be seeing their primary care physician or going to the Cincinnati Children's TBI clinic, due to the passage of recent Ohio legislation mandating medical clearance to return to play."

The study of emergency department trends in sports-related TBI is published online in the journal Pediatrics.

The researchers studied more than 3,800 children and teens who came to Cincinnati Children's with a sports-related TBI between 2002 and 2011. Of these patients, 372 were admitted.

Injury severity, however, decreased from 7.8 to 4.8, based on an established medical score to measure trauma severity. Length of stay changed little but trended downward. Skiing, , inline skating and skateboarding had the highest admission rates for patients who visited the .

Their research did not concentrate on why more children and teens with less severe injuries were admitted to the hospital during this time period. They speculate that emergency physicians may be ordering fewer CT scans and observing patients in the hospital, or perhaps that athletes are getting bigger and stronger, causing more head injuries needing longer periods of observation.

The Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention has called TBI an "invisible epidemic" because these injuries are often profound but not readily apparent to the public. TBI is responsible for approximately 630,000 visits, more than 67,000 hospitalizations, and 6,100 deaths in children and teens each year. Medical evaluations for sports-related TBI increased 62 percent between 2001 and 2009, according to previous studies.

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