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It is an altogether alarming and puzzling scenario that occurs every day here in the United States: Trained professionals misdiagnosing the many different symptoms of sports-related brain injuries — dizziness, blurred vision, loss of balance, etc. — as symptoms of other, less serious conditions.
For example, a high school basketball player who strikes his head on the floor during practice and is unknowingly experiencing a concussion-related headache the next day may be told by a trainer — or even a doctor — that the headache was probably from a lack of sleep and to hit the court as soon as possible.
As you already know, the failure to accurately diagnose the true nature and extent of head injuries in these types of scenarios can have devastating, and perhaps even fatal, consequences for athletes.
Fortunately, the American Academy of Neurology introduced revised guidelines earlier this week concerning the evaluation and management of sports-related head injuries. This should help reduce these egregious misdiagnoses and, most importantly, keep athletes at all levels safe.
The guidelines, which were published in the online edition of the medical journal Neurology, advise that any athlete with a suspected concussion should be taken out of the game or practice as soon as possible, and only be allowed to return after undergoing a comprehensive examination by a medical professional with specialized training in concussion treatment.
Interestingly, AAN’s revised guidelines also indicate that an athlete suffering from a concussion should not be subject to any set timelines concerning recovery; rather, the athlete should only consider returning to the sport once all of the symptoms have gone away entirely. This is especially true for athletes high school age and younger, AAN says, as studies have shown that their brain injuries frequently take longer to heal than those suffered by older athletes.
The guidelines tell medical professionals who are treating concussions to be on the lookout for persistent symptoms (headaches, memory issues, lack of coordination), a history of concussions and the relative age of the patient. These are all factors that have been linked to longer-than-average recovery times for concussions.
Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher, a member of AAN and one of the primary authors of the study, perhaps summed up the new guidelines best.
“If in doubt, sit it out,” he said. “Being seen by a trained professional is extremely important after a concussion. If headaches or other symptoms return with the start of exercise, stop the activity and consult a doctor. You only get one brain; treat it well.”
If you or a loved one has suffered because of a medical professional’s failure to diagnose a traumatic brain injury or another medical mistake, you should strongly consider consulting with a qualified legal professional.
Source: Medical Express, “American Academy of Neurology issues updated sports concussion guideline,” March 18, 2013