Concussions & The NFL: For The Love Of The Brain

Warren Sapp football

Photo: Kevin Casey/NFLPhotoLibrary

As an NFL cheerleader, on the field I firsthand witnessed injuries, including head injuries.  Now as an emergency medicine physician I frequently treat patients in the emergency room that have potentially suffered a brain injury after trauma.

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury that can result after trauma, like a blow to the head, and can affect brain function. Symptoms can vary from mild headaches, nausea, vomiting, to confusion, memory problems, and many more. A single concussive episode likely does not cause permanent damage, however a second concussion, especially soon after the first, can cause permanently disabling or deadly effects.

It is estimated that there are about 300,000 sports-related concussions every year and an athlete in contact sports may have the likelihood of suffering a concussion at about 10% per season.

Some athletes suffer from long-term sequalae of concussions, like in post-concussive syndrome or may even develop progressive degenerative disease as in chronic traumatic encephalopathy, that has features similar to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

There has been increased awareness in this area as many NFL players who suffered brain injury after concussion have been part of a lawsuit against the NFL to help them recover for their brain injuries resulting from football-related trauma. Over 11,000 former NFL players who have suffered long-term brain injury have pre-registered for benefits under this lawsuit. Recently, former NFL player Warren Sapp announced that he is already suffering from memory loss, likely from concussion-related injuries during his NFL career, and has pledged to donate his brain to concussion research.