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Brain & Nervous System Health Center

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Knock, Knock: Repeated Concussions Can Cause Mental Problems for Football Players.

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Treatment consists of waiting for the symptoms to resolve and reassuring the patient he will be all right. Persistent symptoms deserve further evaluation. "If I see a boxer who's complaining of headaches 2 days later, that's when I start to worry," Jordan says.

Several recent studies have shown that high school, college, or other amateur athletes with a history of at least one concussion performed significantly worse on tests of learning and memory than their teammates who had not suffered head injuries. The greater the number of concussions sustained, the worse the athletes' scores, leading an author of one of those papers to conclude that a young person who suffers multiple concussions could have problems with memory, concentration, and decision-making severe enough to impair school performance.

The risk of permanent brain damage is extremely low in children who sustain just one concussion during the junior high or high school years, says Ricardo Senno, MD, attending physician in the traumatic brain injury program at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

"The brain repairs itself from one concussion," he tells WebMD. "The issue is multiple concussions, and the severity of the injury. If you get concussion after concussion after concussion, you could have mild ... impairment," consisting of deficits in memory and concentration later in life.

"If a child is prone to multiple concussions, he or she probably shouldn't play that sport," Senno tells WebMD when asked to comment on the study. He recommends parents, coaches, and physicians think about taking a child out of a particular activity if he or she sustains two or more concussions in a season. Unfortunately, says Jordan, no data exist to help determine when someone might be too young to start playing football.

The best way to prevent permanent brain or nerve injury is to "minimize the risk of multiple injuries to the head," says Senno. "Wear the appropriate helmet, not just during competitive sports but recreational sports as well, such as skiing or bike riding." Seatbelts and, for younger children, car restraints are also important safety measures, he says.

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