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Football players suffer brain injuries even without concussions

MINNEAPOLIS -- College football players show signs of injury deep within the portion of the brain that helps control thinking and emotion, including players who haven't suffered concussions, researchers found.

The greatest damage occurred in players who started young and suffered repeated concussions, a traumatic brain injury that typically stems from a blow to the head or violent shaking. The findings, published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, add to evidence that even mild contact can cause real and lasting brain damage.

Health officials have targeted concussions with outreach programs designed to increase awareness and cut injury rates, particularly in youth sports where there was little attention to the potential harm to the brain from collisions. Studies have shown abnormalities in the brains of former National Football League players and preventable deaths in younger athletes who stayed on the field after taking violent hits.

"The key take-home message, especially for parents, is when in doubt, get it checked out," said Patrick Bellgowan, director of cognitive neuroscience at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research in Tulsa, Oklahoma, senior author of the study. "It's a real injury. Parents basically think once the symptoms are gone their kids are better, and that's not necessarily true."

The researchers compared high-resolution brain images for 25 college football players with a history of concussions, 25 athletes who hadn't suffered traumatic brain injuries and 25 matches with people who weren't players. They tested cognitive function and took into account the number of years the men played football.

-- Bloomberg News

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