A Waikato study has revealed that traumatic brain injuries (TBI) are far more common than what was previously thought and that they outrated strokes and heart attacks.
Findings reveal that rates of TBI in New Zealand are 790 TBI per 100,000 people per year - a rate that is the highest so far among developed countries. This study helped the researchers from AUT's National Institute for Stroke and Applied Neuroscience to estimate that 36,000 new TBIs were occurring in New Zealand per year. Earlier studies had excessively underestimated the numbers.
Advertisement95% of TBI detected were mild; however, lead Professor Valery Feigin has issued a warning that even mild cases often can contribute to significant later life health problems such as dementia and stroke.
The study was carried out in an area which had a population of about 173,000. Out of this group, 1369 people were diagnosed with TBI in a year, of which 71 cases were classified as moderate to severe. This estimate makes us to understand that one new TBI occurs every 15 minutes and that it far out numbers heart attacks and that it is five times the rate of new strokes occurrence.
A TBI occurs when a bump or blow to the head disrupts the normal function of the brain. Falls accounted for the majority of TDIs and it included falling off trees, horses or ladder (37%). Falls caused by mechanical forces (including animals, inanimate objects or another human) accounted for 21% of cases. Contact sports, transport accidents, and assaults made up the other causes.
TBIs due to falls were more commonly seen in children and people above the age of 65 years.
The rate of TBI in New Zealand was 790 cases per 100,000 people in comparison to 47 to 453 cases in Europe, and 51 to 618 cases in North America. More research needed to be done to work out why the incidence of TBI was so much higher in this country.
Feigin remarked that more research is needed to be done to understand the disparity. He reasoned that some of the difference could be due to the difference in carrying out the study, but he also acknowledged that the injuries from assault was much more in New Zealand than in Europe, or elsewhere.
The Waikato study discovered that males had a 77 per cent greater risk of TBIs compared to females, and that the risk for Maori people was 23 per cent greater compared to New Zealand Europeans. Similarly the risk of moderate to severe TBI was almost 2.5 times higher in the rural population in comparison to the urban population.
The study has been proposed as the first largest population-based study that was carried out to gather the incidence of TBI across all age groups in an area with both urban and rural populations.
Feigin says that the consequences of TBI are not mild and could result in health problems such as dementia or even stroke. Social impacts may include behavioral changes and depression.
The results of the study have been published in the medical journal The Lancet.