Head Injury Risks Linger

Increased Risk of Death After Head Injury May Persist for Years

By Jennifer Warner
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Jan. 31, 2011 -- Head injuries may raise the risk of death for years after the initial injury, according to a new study.

Researchers found people who suffered a head injury were nearly three times more likely to die from any cause within 13 years after the injury than other healthy adults, regardless of the severity of the initial injury.

The study followed 757 people who had suffered a head injury and were admitted to one of five hospitals in Glasgow, Scotland, between 1995 and 1996. Researchers compared the risk of death in the head injury group to a similar group of 757 people who were admitted to the hospital for other injuries and a third group of 757 people from the community who were matched for age and gender.

The results showed the number of deaths during the 13-year follow-up period was higher among the head injury group than in the group with other injuries or the group from the community.

"More than 40% of young people and adults admitted to hospital in Glasgow after a head injury were dead 13 years later," write researcher T. M. McMillan, of the University of Glasgow, and colleagues in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry. "This stark finding is not explained by age, gender or deprivation characteristics."

Long-Term Head Injury Deaths

Overall, 305 (40.3%) of those who suffered a head injury were dead within 13 years compared with 215 (28.2%) of those who were hospitalized for other injuries and 135 (19%) in the community group.

As expected, researchers say the risk of death was highest in the year immediately following a head injury, especially among those with more serious head injuries, but an elevated risk of death persisted for at least another 12 years among all types of head injuries.

In the long-term, the study showed people with head injuries were nearly three times as likely to die of circulatory, respiratory, digestive, psychiatric, and external causes than their peers in the community.

Of particular concern, researchers say, was the finding that adults aged 15-54 at the time of head injury were six times more likely to die within 13 years after their injury than others in the community.

"The reason for greater vulnerability in younger adults is unclear, but requires further consideration, especially given the particularly higher risk of head injury in younger adults," write the researchers.

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SOURCES: McMillan, T. Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, published online Jan. 31, 2011.News release, BMJ Specialist Journals.

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