HEALTHY LIVING
01/15/2014 04:02 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

Traumatic Brain Injury Raises Premature Death Risk

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A new study reveals a troubling risk of traumatic brain injury.

Researchers from the University of Oxford found an association between experiencing traumatic brain injury and having a higher risk of dying early, as well as a higher risk of dying from suicides, injuries and assaults.

The study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, is based on data from 218,300 people in Sweden who were born in 1954 or later and who were diagnosed with traumatic brain injury sometime between 1969 and 2009. The researchers looked at the death rate and cause of death of this population six or more months after the traumatic brain injury, and compared it with the general population, as well as siblings of the patients with traumatic brain injury.

Researchers found that people who survived six or more months after traumatic brain injury had a three-fold higher odds of death, when compared with the general population. They also had a 2.6-fold higher odds of death when compared with their siblings who did not have traumatic brain injury.

The risk of dying from "external causes" was particularly, high, including from assault, injuries and suicide; people who also engaged in substance abuse or who had psychiatric disorders had a higher risk of premature death, as well.

Traumatic brain injury has increasingly been the focus of attention due to its links with contact sports, such as football, as well as combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, not all of these injuries are the same nor do they provoke the same symptoms, depending on the nature of the injury, noted Dr. Robert G. Robinson, M.D., of the University of Iowa, who wrote an editorial in the same journal on the subject.

Indeed, Robinson points out in the editorial that the study did not differentiate between traumatic brain injuries caused by combat or contact sports, and injuries caused by car accidents, falls or assaults, but that the new study seems to apply more to brain injuries caused by the latter. And because of the "preponderance of premature deaths due to external factors," it's likely that personality traits (such as being impulsive or being a risk-taker) also played some sort of a role.

But still, "this important study has identified that a small proportion of TBI patients will have a premature death primarily associated with injuries, assaults, and suicide," Robinson wrote. "As the authors indicate, the need to recognize these patients is an important task because half of these deaths are due to preventable behaviors. Further studies in this area should focus on whether the cause of brain injury, type of brain injury, severity of injury, or premorbid personality characteristics are associated with the highest risk of premature death."

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