December 03, 2015
By Sean Philpott-Jones, Director of the Bioethics Program
Like many Americans, my in-laws have a Thanksgiving Day tradition of watching football and a Black Friday tradition of going shopping. Both of these are full contact sports, but only one of them will prove to be deadly for thousands of people.
That is because concussions — known clinically as mild traumatic brain injury (or MTBI) — are common in football. They are also common in other contact sports like soccer, hockey, boxing and martial arts.
Concussions are one of the most frequent traumatic brain injuries, occurring more than 1.5 million times a year in the United States alone. They happen when a blow to the head or body, a fall, or some other impact causes the brain to smash into the skull.
Symptoms of a concussion can range from a mild headache, blurred vision and disorientation to a loss of consciousness, convulsions and even memory loss. These symptoms usually subside within a few hours, but can last for days, weeks and even months. Unfortunately, there is no real treatment for a concussion other than physical and cognitive rest.
For most people who suffer a concussion, there are thankfully no lingering or long-term effects. But that is not the case for many athletes. Repeated concussions can result in a condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive neurodegenerative disease characterized by impaired speech, deafness, amnesia, depression, anger and dementia. We now know that a significant percentage of amateur and professional athletes are likely to be suffering from CTE.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.