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Concussions in Kids Are Happening Much More Often Than Previously Thought

The Short of It

A new study finds that concussions in children are seriously underreported.

The Lowdown

According to ABC News, a concussion is only counted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention when it's diagnosed in the emergency room. That means if a child sustains a traumatic brain injury and his or her parents head to the pediatrician's office instead, those cases aren't being reported.

Can you imagine what that means in terms of how many concussions kids actually get each year? Researchers from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia did, so they looked at concussion cases in their regional pediatric network. Their findings were published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics.

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Incredibly, 82 percent of kids had their first concussion visit at a primary care practice, such as a pediatrician's office. Just 12 percent were diagnosed in the ER, and 5 percent received a diagnosis from a specialist, like a sports medicine physician or neurologist. One percent were directly admitted to a hospital.

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Dr. Debra Houry, director of the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, explained the implications of the findings in a statement, saying in part, "We need surveillance that better captures concussions that occur in children and adolescents. Better estimates of the number, causes, and outcomes of concussion will allow us to more effectively prevent and treat them."

Kristy Arbogast, lead author and co-scientific director of CHOP's Center for Injury Research and Prevention, further explained the study's significance, by adding, "We learned two really important things about pediatric concussion health care practices. First, four in five of this diverse group of children were diagnosed at a primary care practice—not the emergency department. Second, one-third were under age 12, and therefore represent an important part of the concussion population that is missed by existing surveillance systems that focus on high school athletes."

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The Upshot

It's important to note the study authors are not suggesting that pediatricians are ineffective at diagnosing a concussion; in fact, quite the opposite. They are the doctors who understand children best and should be your first call if you suspect your child may have a concussion. Rather, it's the reporting of these serious head injuries that needs improvement.

Experts should also be more focused on understanding prevention, treatment, and the long-term impact of concussions in younger children.

If you're concerned your child might have a concussion, or you want to understand more about them, please read these 11 things all parents need to know about head injuries.

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