A national concussion strategy is needed to identify and manage concussions across all sports in Ireland, according to scientists studying the condition.
Concussion and concussive brain injuries have increasingly made headlines in recent years as being associated with certain sports such as rugby, boxing and American Football.
Now, the concussion research interest group established by the Department of Genetics at Trinity College Dublin and the Clinical Research Centre in St James’s Hospital says a national strategy is needed to deal with the issue.
The group was set up in 2015 with the aim of understanding at a molecular level, the underlying pathology associated with concussions.
Repetitive injuries to the head carry very obvious long-term risks for individuals. However, the underlying mechanisms of damage and indeed clinical management of concussive brain injuries remain unclear.
Speaking ahead of a concussion symposium in Trinity College Dublin (TCD) yesterday, assistant professor of genetics at TCD, Matthew Campbell, said the concussion research interest group research has made it clear to the group that a national strategy is needed.
“It’s not just in sport. What we need to do is to open the door for all stakeholders and vested interests including those in the sporting world to examine what is going on and how we can manage it in terms of creating a national strategy for concussion.
“As it stands, we have a situation where a child can go out and play football and suffer a concussion and be stood down for seven days but go out and play rugby the next day.”
Dr Campbell said the research group is trying to understand what goes on in the brain after a concussive impact: “What we are trying to figure out is what happens to the brain not just after the initial impact but also in the day after and the week after.
“We all know how important cardiovascular health is but not a lot of people know about cerebral vascular health. The brain has a huge amount of bloody vessels Our data shows that, after an impact, these small blood vessels become leaky. It will resolve itself but this takes time, so if you expose the brain to repeated impacts this may cause long-term consequences.”
In terms of existing research, Dr Campbell said there is a long way to go in terms of our understanding of concussion but said increased awareness of the issue shines a spotlight on the need for more research.
Addressing the more severe issues associated with repeated blows to the head, such as the much-publicised cases of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in professional athletes, Dr Campbell said it is important to note that such cases are “extremely rare”.
“You hear a lot about chronic traumatic encephalopathy but it’s important to note that this is exceedingly rare. There have only been a handful of cases reported worldwide. For example, there is a landmark study that was done in boxing to show that ex-professional boxers have a 20% increased risk of chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
“But what we need are the facts and figures,” he said.
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