College Athletes are Unaware of Head Injury Symptoms

August 12, 2003

Do you play sports? If so, you probably know strategies, rules and some of the history associated with your sport. But there are other important facts that you should learn--such as the symptoms of a head injury. According to Dr. Kevin Kaut at the University of Akron (Akron, OH), many college athletes do not know the symptoms of head injuries.

A concussion is defined by the American Academy of Neurology as a "trauma-induced alteration in mental status that may or may not involve loss of consciousness." So, a person does not need to become unconscious to have suffered a concussion. Rather, any change in mental status such as memory loss or confusion are signs of a concussion.

Dr. Kaut and his colleagues studied the number of head injuries in 461 male and female athletes and asked these students what they knew about the symptoms of head injuries. Almost one-third (31.9%) of the athletes reported that they had experienced a direct blow to the head that caused dizziness. A total of 34 of 95 (35.8%) football players, 7 of 45 (15.6%) male soccer players and 14 of 72 (19.4%) female athletes (basketball, diving, softball, volleyball players) reported they had dizziness after being struck in the head. Other symptoms of head injury experienced by the athletes after being hit in the head included:

  • Saw stars or colors (28.9%)
  • Head hurt at least once a week (26.2%)
  • Vomited, felt nauseated, had ringing in the ears (17.9%)
  • Lost consciousness (7.7%)
  • Forgot what to do on the field (7.6%)
  • Had trouble studying, concentrating and doing homework (4.5%)

Many athletes in the survey reported that they continued to play in practice or games with headaches (30.4%) and dizziness (28.2%) after being struck in the head. More than half of the football players (61.2%) continued to play with headaches. Some football players (25.2%) who continued to practice or play did not tell their coaches or trainers that they were dizzy. The male soccer players and female athletes, however, thought it was a good idea to tell their coaches that they felt dizzy: only 4.4% of the soccer players and 9.7% of the women athletes did not inform their coaches or trainers about their dizziness.

When asked, "Do you understand the problems that can occur as a result of a head injury?", only 43.7% of the athletes answered, "Yes." The most common symptoms of head injury mentioned by students who knew about such problems were:

  • Memory problems (23.2%)
  • Brain damage (12.1%)
  • Headache (11.2%)
  • Dizziness (10.7%)

Few students mentioned attention/concentration problems (3.6%), thought disturbances (2.7%), loss of consciousness (2.7%), vomiting (2.7%) or hearing problems (1.8%).

Many studies indicate that athletes from many different sports are at risk for head injuries. Additionally, the more times a person gets a head injury, the more they are at risk for a severe concussion. Therefore, it is important for athletes to be in good shape, know the rules of the game, and take the necessary safety precautions. It is also important for athletes to know the symptoms of a head injury so they can alert their coaches and trainers. Athletes who work with their coaches, trainers and doctors can help minimize the chance of a more serious injury.

References and further information:

  1. Collins, M.W., Lovell, M.R., Iverson, G.L., Cantu, R.C., Maroon, J.C. and Field, M., Cumulative effects of concussion in high school athletes, Neurosurgery, 51:1175-1181, 2002.
  2. Practice parameter: the management of concussion in sports. (Summary Statement.) Neurology, 48:581-585, 1997.
  3. High School Sports and Brain Injury from Neuroscience for Kids
  4. Soccer and the Brain from Neuroscience for Kids
  5. Getting Your Bell Rung: More "Rings" Put Athletes at Risk for Severe Concussions from Neuroscience for Kids
  6. Survey Tackles Football Concussions from Neuroscience for Kids
  7. The Surf is Up! from Neuroscience for Kids

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