Ouch! I Bonked my Head!

Traumatic brain injury risk among teens is high and associated with drug use

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Many of us will remember what it was like to be an awkward, clumsy teenager. Remember bonking our heads on a door after staring a bit too long at our high school crush? How often are injuries like these serious?

A recent study suggests that traumatic brain injuries, which sometimes can have serious effects in later life, have a high occurrence among teens.

According to this study, adolescents are at high risk of traumatic brain injuries.

Many injuries were sustained while playing sports. The risk of injury was also significantly higher in those students who reported the use of alcohol or marijuana.

"Get every head injury checked by a doctor."

This study was conducted by Gabriela Ilie, PhD, of St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, Canada, and colleagues. The aim of the study was to examine the prevalence of traumatic brain injury among adolescents and its link to student drug use. 

Prevalence means how many people have a certain condition. In this case, prevalence means how many teens had a history of traumatic brain injury (TBI).  

The researchers looked at data from a health survey conducted by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in 2011 in Ontario, Canada. The survey consisted of anonymous questionnaires filled by 8,915 students from grades 7 to 12.

The study defined TBI as any injury sustained by the students where they lost consciousness for at least five minutes or sustained injuries that required overnight hospitalization.

After studying the data, the researchers found that the lifetime prevalence of TBI among the students was 20.2 percent and that 5.6 percent of the students had a history of at least one traumatic brain injury episode in the previous year.

Sports-related injuries were the most common head injury, accounting for 56 percent of the occurrences (46.9 percent of girls and 63.3 percent of boys) reporting at least one sports-related injury in their lifetime.

Participants who reported consuming alcohol and marijuana in the previous year had significantly higher odds of having had traumatic brain injury during that year than students who abstained from those substances.

The researchers highlighted TBI among adolescents as an important health priority. They suggested that further studies be conducted to study the prevalence of traumatic brain injury and its relationship with substance use.

According to the researchers, even minor head injuries in adolescents can have major repercussions. So a better understanding of TBI is important.

"In the United States, more than half a million adolescents aged 15 years or younger require hospital-based care for head injury annually, and our data suggest a much higher number of adolescents may be experiencing these injuries."

"The magnitude of the prevalence estimates and the associated risks identified within this representative sample support suggestions to improve understanding, prevention, and response to [traumatic brain injury] among adolescents," the study authors wrote.  

According to Leana S. Wen, emergency physician at Brigham & Women's and Massachusetts General Hospital and Clinical Fellow at Harvard Medical School, traumatic brain injury is a significant problem among adolescents . "Healthcare providers need to be trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of brain injury, and refer at-risk patients to receive further care. Parents, teachers, and sports coaches should be brought in as partners to prevent and identify Traumatic Brain Injury," Dr. Wen told DailyRx.

This study was published June 26 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The research was funded by grants from the Injury Research Program of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. The sponsors were not involved in conducting the study.

No relevant financial relationships or conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 25, 2013
Last Updated:
August 1, 2013