Emergency department visits for traumatic brain injury on the rise

A nearly 30 percent increase in the rate of visits to an emergency department for traumatic brain injury (TBI) occurred between 2006 and 2010, according to a research letter published on May 13 by JAMA.

Attention to TBI has increased in the last decade thanks to public campaigns and legislation. Moreover, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes TBI as a serious public health concern, which has likely spread awareness to the general population as well.

Lead author Jennifer R. Marin, MD, MSc, of the University of Pittsburgh School in Medicine, and colleagues aimed to assess national trends in emergency department visits from 2006 to 2010 for TBI by examining data from the Nationwide Emergency Department Sample (NEDS) database. NEDS represents national data that include 25 to 50 million visits from more than 950 hospitals each year. The database offers a 20 percent stratified sample of emergency departments.

The researchers discovered that in 2010, there were an estimated 2.5 million emergency department visits for TBI, indicating a 29 percent increase in the rate of visits for TBI during the study period. To put this figure in perspective, the total emergency department visits increased by 3.6 percent, according to the authors. A large portion of the increase in the incidence of TBI occurred in visits that were coded as concussion or unspecified head injury.

Children younger than three years and adults older than 60 experienced the largest increase in TBI rates. Most of the visits were for minor injuries and most of the patients were discharged from the emergency department. Forty percent of the visits had at least one other injury, including open wounds; most of the cases were secondary to falls.

“The increase in traumatic brain injury among the very young and very old may indicate these age groups do not benefit as much from public health interventions, such as concussion and helmet laws and safer sports’ practices,” concluded Marin and colleagues.