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Philadelphia doctor discusses risk of repeated brain injuries

CBS News Live
CBS News Philadelphia Live

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- The coach of the Dolphins says his quarterback is in good spirits as he recovers. But there can be serious medical problems linked to brain injuries.

Doctors say repeated concussions are dangerous, which has been an ongoing issue for the NFL. 

With the injury Thursday night, there's at least one indication it was serious. 

After the hit, Tua Tagovailoa raised his hands with his fingers splayed in what's called a fencers posture 

"It's indicative of injury to the brain stem, to the part of the brain that connects the brain to the spinal cord and suggests a more severe hit," Dr. Danielle Sandsmark, a neurologist at Penn Medicine, said. 

Sandsmark says concussions happen when the brain gets injured being bounced around inside the skull.

"Depending on the way your head hits, it impacts which structures are affected and that translates into different symptoms," Sandsmark said.

She says it's a good sign the Miami quarterback was released from the hospital and traveled with the team, but that doesn't mean there aren't significant injuries.

"He may be more symptomatic, so more likely to have difficulties with dizziness, balance, visual difficulties, headaches," Sandman said. "The impact can last much longer than that initial recovery period."

Research shows that repeated brain injuries can lead to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy which causes early dementia.

A study of donated brains from deceased football players found 99% had CTE, including Eagles Hall of Famer Tommy McDonald.

"Gradually you lose your ability to think clearly and you often have behavioral changes like impulsivity, short fuse," Dr. Ann McKee from the Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center said.

The NFL has instituted a number of safety measures to limit brain injuries, but the risk remains a part of the game.

Generally, concussion treatment usually involves a couple of days of rest while gradually resuming activities, but symptoms like headaches can persist.

Doctors say there are indications some people are more susceptible to concussions -- it's unclear why.

They say about 75% of people who experience a moderate brain injury have long-term mental health and cognitive complications.

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