$765 million dollars.

That’s the settlement being negotiated for thousands of concussion-related claims from former NFL players.

Why should Minnesotans care?

There are several reasons, none of which have to do with the NFL or the Vikings. The concern locally is what this case highlights in terms of the serious consequences of head injuries and how those consequences affect our student athletes.

Just consider the pay scale of the NFL settlement. The awards could reach $5 million for athletes with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease; $4 million for a suicide involving brain trauma; and $3 million for dementia cases. That’s quite a statement in terms of how head injuries can affect an athlete.

Here in Minnesota one out of 10 athletes under the age of 19 sustained at least one concussion in 2011. While the concussions range from mild to severe, the point is that each one is a brain injury, and that’s serious business.

As athletes fill soccer, lacrosse and baseball fields, there is important NEW information parents, coaches and athletes need to know about concussions and traumatic brain injuries (TBI). The onset of spring sports is a good time to remind and re-educate people about the prevalence and prevention of TBI.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 1.7 million Americans sustain a TBI, including concussions, each year. Of those individuals, 52,000 die, 275,000 are hospitalized and 1.4 million are treated and released.

Sometimes the signs of TBI are obvious; the patient is unconscious or acting “out of it”. But signs and symptoms are not always immediate. That’s why it is so important to understand the main causes of brain injury and signs that this “bump on the head” is actually much more serious.

As we head into spring, rollerblading and bicycling are two examples of activities that are known to cause head trauma. Other top examples are:

• Falls

• Motor vehicle or traffic accidents

• Being struck by or aga-inst an object

It is interesting to note that nearly 20 percent of all TBI-related emergency room visits involve children ages 0 to 4.

Immediately following a TBI, two things happen. First, the brain tissue reacts to the trauma with biochemical and physiological responses to brain cells that have been damaged or even destroyed. The second and more commonly known reaction is the loss of consciousness, which can last minutes, hours or even months.

Other symptoms of a brain injury or TBI include short- or long-term changes in thinking, sensation, language and emotion. For example:

• Thinking (memory and reasoning)

• Sensation (touch, taste, and smell)

• Language (communication, expression, and understanding)

• Emotion (depression, anxiety, personality changes, aggression)

The most important thing to know if a loved one has sustained a blow to the head is to seek medical attention, especially if you are noticing any symptoms out of the ordinary. Key to recovering from even less-severe head trauma is rest. For young athletes sustaining a concussion it is important to stop play and sit it out, immediately. Your brain needs time to properly heal, so rest is necessary. Athletes and children should be closely monitored by coaches upon resuming play.

Prevention is key to protecting yourself from serious head injuries. When necessary, wear a helmet especially while skiing, biking, rollerblading and participating in any sports that could result in head injury. Repeat concussions cause cumulative effects on the brain. Successive concussions can have devastating consequences, including brain swelling, permanent brain damage, long-term disabilities or even death.

It is important to understand all aspects of brain injury and what you can do to protect yourself and your family.

Kurt Belk is ER physician and medical director of The Urgency Room in Vadnais Heights.

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