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Concussion Symptoms Can Linger In Kids

Kids who injured their heads were more likely to have lingering cognitive problems than those who broke limbs.
Stephan Zabel
Kids who injured their heads were more likely to have lingering cognitive problems than those who broke limbs.

Concussions are not kids stuff.

Even a pretty small knock to a child's head can lead to problems for months afterward, a new study finds.

Researchers charted the progress of more than 250 kids admitted to two hospitals for either mild traumatic brain injuries or broken bones in an arm or leg.

The kids who had brain injuries — especially ones that led to unconsciousness or visible changes on MRI scans — were more likely than the others to have headaches, tiredness and trouble thinking a year after being seen at the hospitals.

The results appear in the latest issue of the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

The outcome might not come as a surprise. Another study covered by Shots recently found that concussions affect the thinking of teenagers more than they do that of adults or younger children. But all three age groups show lasting problems with working memory after sports concussions, which are generally thought of as pretty mild.

About a half-million kids under 15 wind up in hospitals with head injuries each year. And it's a big enough problem that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has tips for recognizing concussions, as well as preventing them.

The researchers concluded that doctors need to be on guard for kids having trouble as long as a year after a mild concussion. They may need extra help with school, for instance. And this study suggests that kids with headaches and other physical symptoms three months after the injury were more likely to need that kind of help later on.

"The overall message emerging from this research is that the group of injuries classified as 'mild TBI,' including sports-related concussions, should not necessarily be treated as minor injuries, which quickly resolve," an accompanying editorial says.

Both the researchers and the author of the editorial called for the development of better tests to predict which children with brain injuries will need extra attention.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Hensley edits stories about health, biomedical research and pharmaceuticals for NPR's Science desk. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he has led the desk's reporting on the development of vaccines against the coronavirus.
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