Concussions landing more kids in ER: What explains trend?

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(CBS/AP) Are sporty kids more likely to end up in the ER? One thing's for sure - among young athletes, hospital visits for concussions are up by 60 percent, according to a new federal study.

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But experts say that's a good thing. The rise in visits is likely due to parents and coaches being more careful about treating head injuries.

"These injuries were always there," said Steve Marshall, interim director of the University of North Carolina's Injury Prevention and Research Center. "It's not that there are more injuries now. It's just that now people are getting treatment that they weren't getting before."

What were the leading reasons for kids' brain injuries? Bicyling and football. But it's not because these sports are the most dangerous - health officials say it's probably related to the popularity of these activities. About 85 percent of youths say they rarely or never wear a bicycle helmet, according to recent research.

The CDC study was based on a nationally-representative survey of 66 hospital emergency departments. The agency looked at 2001-to-2009 data for kids and teens ages 19 and younger - and found that the numbers of kids coming into ERs with brain injuries rose from 153,000 in 2001 to nearly 250,000 in 2009.

Despite the increase in ER visits, the study found no significant increase in the rate of kids who were then admitted to the hospitals. That suggests that more coaches and parents are simply being cautious, bringing kids to the ER with mild concussions and blows to the head, said Dr. Julie Gilchrist, a CDC epidemiologist who led the study.

Parents may be motivated by a number of reasons. For one, new state laws in New York and elsewhere require student athletes with concussion symptoms to be cleared by a medical professional before being allowed to participate in sports, said Dr. Jeffrey Bazarian, an emergency physician at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York. Many parents also seem to have become aware of the danger of concussions by reports on television, said Dr. Bazarian.

"I think the TV specials on this have them spooked," he said.

  • Monica DyBuncio

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