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Concussions Strike College Students Far More Often Than Thought

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 18, 2019 (HealthDay News) -- On college campuses in the United States, students suffer concussions twice as often as believed, and most of those injuries occur off the playing field, new research from the University of Colorado at Boulder suggests.

"This study shows how common head injuries are among this population and that concussions are not restricted to the athletic field," said study co-author Dr. John Breck, lead physician at CU Boulder Medical Services.

"Student health centers around the country should be training their staff in concussion recognition and putting systems in place to help concussed students get the evaluation and treatment they need," Breck added in a university news release.

After analyzing data on about 30,000 undergraduates at the university between August 2015 and May 2018, the researchers found that about 340 concussions were diagnosed a year, a rate of about one in 75 students per year.

The findings showed that 41% of students diagnosed with a concussion said they'd had between one and three previous concussions, and 5% reported four or more.

When varsity athletes weren't included in the analysis, 64% of concussions were non-sport-related, while the rest occurred during organized sports, such as club sports.

Falls (such as slips on the ice or crashes on skateboards) accounted for 38% of concussions, hits to the head (such as those sustained in a fight or accident) accounted for 8.5% and motor vehicle accidents accounted for 6.5%, according to the report.

When varsity athletes were included in the analysis, the rate of sport-related concussions was 51 per 10,000 students per year and the rate of non-sport-related concussion was 81 per 10,000 students per year. The overall rate was 132 per 10,000 students per year, the study authors said.

Among varsity athletes, women had a higher rate of concussion, with 54 women and 26 men sustaining concussions over two academic years.

It's unclear why female athletes may be more susceptible to concussions than males, but differences in hormones and in neck strength and head mass may be factors, Breck suggested.

The study was published online Dec. 18 in JAMA Network Open.

Study co-author Matt McQueen, an integrative physiology professor, pointed out that "there is a widely held perception that most concussions are sport-related. Our study shows it can happen to anyone, male or female, engaged in a variety of activities."

The study also found that concussion rates among college students spiked in August, Breck noted.

"These data do not tell us why August had such high numbers, but anecdotally we know that August is a time of lower academic demand and higher risk-taking behavior," he said.

"Missing class and falling behind due to a head injury can be a significant detriment to a student's academic success," Breck said. "It's critical that they get high quality, evidence-based care as soon as possible so they can return to learning in a safe way with as little disruption in their education as possible."

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more on concussion.

SOURCE: University of Colorado at Boulder, news release, Dec. 18, 2019

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