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Sports Injuries

Updated 03 September 2015

Rugby players' head injuries linked to brain decline

The first case of a rugby player who died from chronic traumatic encephalopathy - a condition associated with repeated concussions - is outlined in a new study.

Add rugby to the sports that can lead to degenerative brain disease, a new study suggests.

The first case of a rugby player who died from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) - a condition associated with repeated concussions - is outlined in a new study.

To date, the link between brain injuries and chronic traumatic encephalopathy has mostly been made in football players and boxers, the researchers said.

The patient in the new case reported playing rugby from his early teens until age 50, playing just below the international standard for much of that time. He died at age 57, six years after developing the first symptoms of brain decline.

The man's family said he suffered many head injuries and symptoms of mild concussion over his playing career, according to the study published online May 22 in the Quarterly Journal of Medicine.

A diagnosis of chronic traumatic encephalopathy was made only after he died - as is true for all CTE cases.

Concussion rates in rugby are among the highest in contact sports, noted researcher Dr. Michael Farrell in a journal news release. Farrell is a brain pathologist at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, Ireland.

"There remains limited awareness in clinics that the condition occurs in sports outside of boxing," he and his colleagues wrote. "With increased awareness of CTE, we would suggest the diagnosis might be considered in any patient presenting to dementia services with a prior history to exposure of TBI [traumatic brain injury]."

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Image: Brain in the shape of tangles from Shutterstock

 

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Sports Injuries Expert

Adrian Rotunno is a medical doctor in the Sports & Exercise Medicine fellowship at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa, and qualified physiotherapist. Team physician for Dimension Data pro-cycling, and Boland Rugby. Special interests include endurance sport, in particular cycling, as well as contact sports.

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