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See where in California sports-related concussions happen most

Doctor says concussions aren't the issue for NFL players, it's brain damage

Dr. Bennet Omalu was the first to document the problem of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in professional football players. The National Football League for years sought to downplay his findings. The NFL has since acknowledged it has a "concussio
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Dr. Bennet Omalu was the first to document the problem of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in professional football players. The National Football League for years sought to downplay his findings. The NFL has since acknowledged it has a "concussio

California emergency rooms treat far more youth for sports-related concussions today than a decade ago, with suburban and rural counties seeing the highest rates of concussions, new state figures show.

About 17,000 youth ages 9 to 18 were treated in California emergency rooms or hospitalized for sports-related concussions last year, up by 6,000, or almost 60 percent, from 2005, according the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development. Concussion rates rose quickest among California children ages 9 to 13.

Rural Northern California counties – and the Sacramento suburbs – had the highest rates of concussion. About six of every 1,000 youth in Placer and El Dorado counties visited the hospital for sports-related concussions each year between 2011 and 2015, about double the statewide average. Both Placer and El Dorado were among the 10 counties with the highest concussion rates.

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A concussion is a traumatic injury to the brain that causes temporary loss of normal brain function. Multiple concussions can be permanently disabling or even fatal, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons.

Three factors are likely behind the increase in sports-related concussions, said Dr. Christopher C. Giza, professor of pediatric neurology and neurosurgery at the UCLA Brain Injury Research Center.

Most simply, “more concussions are happening,” Giza said. “National data for high schools show rates of concussion are increasing.”

At the same time, though, “Our definition of concussion has gradually changed,” Giza said. “Even in 2005 many providers may still have required loss of consciousness to diagnose concussion. We know that most concussions actually don’t have loss of consciousness.”

And, Giza said, “More concussions are being recognized – almost certainly. Athletes, parents and coaches may be more aware of symptoms. Having more certified athletic trainers increases detection of concussions.”

And recent state legislation, he noted, now mandates that youth athletes be removed from play if concussion is suspected.

The Sacramento Bee’s Data Tracker offers a deeper look at the numbers behind today’s news. Phillip Reese: 916-321-1137, @PhillipHReese

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