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36,000 new brain injuries each year, “epidemic proportions"

AUT University
Embargoed news release: 1:01pm (NZ time) and 12:01am (UK time) 22 November 2012

36,000 new brain injuries in NZ each year, incidence at “epidemic proportions”

The number of people with traumatic brain injuries in New Zealand is at “epidemic proportions” according to the lead investigator of a study published today in the international medical journal The Lancet.

A research team led by Professor Valery Feigin at AUT University’s National Institute for Stroke and Applied Neuroscience estimates that more than 36,000 new traumatic brain injuries occur in New Zealand each year. Previous statistics have grossly underestimated the extent of traumatic brain injury (TBI) in New Zealand, says Professor Feigin.

“This means one new TBI happens every 15 minutes, far more than the number of new heart attacks and greater than five times the number of new strokes. The true burden of TBI in New Zealand is far greater than expected and new strategies are urgently needed to reverse this ‘silent epidemic’,” he says.

A TBI occurs when an external force, such as a bump or blow to the head disrupts the normal function of the brain. The population-based study is the first of its kind globally.

The BIONIC (Brain Injury Outcomes New Zealand In the Community) study looked at the incidence of TBI in over 173,200 residents in the Waikato region during 2010-2011. Findings reveal that rates of TBI in New Zealand (790 cases per 100,000 people per year) were far higher than other developed countries in Europe (47 – 453 cases per 100,000 people per year) and North America (51 – 618 cases per 100,000 people per year).

Children, young adults, men, Maori and rural inhabitants were all found to be at increased risk of sustaining a TBI. Most TBIs were due to falls (37.7%), mechanical forces (21.0%), transport accidents (20.2%) and assaults (16.7%).

“Often, people with head injuries don’t realise they’ve had a brain injury. People need to know that if they’ve had any head injury which results in losing consciousness or being dazed and confused then they need to seek medical attention immediately.”

Acquired brain injury - including stroke and traumatic brain injury - is the leading cause of disability and death in New Zealand. Previous data estimated that brain injuries cost the health system approximately $100 million per year, but Feigin expects this figure to rise significantly.

According to Feigin, the number of mild traumatic brain injuries sustained was also alarming. “95% of all cases were found to be mild TBI - far greater than anyone expected and substantially higher than recent World Health Organisation estimates of 100–300 cases per 100 000 people per year.”

“The consequences of mild TBI are not mild at all. Generally speaking, mild TBI is characterised by a relatively short loss of memory of the event of the injury or what has happened just after the injury, and/or a very minor loss of consciousness at the time of the injury.

“TBIs can and often do result in significant and long-standing deficits ranging from mild memory difficulties to dementia, seizures, depression and social disadaptation. If people with mild TBI are treated in a timely manner then many of these consequences can be avoided.”

• In New Zealand, most TBIs were due to falls (37.7%), mechanical forces (21.0%), transport accidents (20.2%) and assaults (16.7%).
• Children (0-14 years old) and adolescents/young adults (15-34 years old) constituted almost 70% of all TBI cases, far higher than the 40-60% reported in previous studies.
• Males had a 77% greater risk of sustaining TBI than females.
• Compared to NZ Europeans, the risk of sustaining TBI in Maori was 23% greater.
• The risk of moderate-severe TBI in the rural population was almost 2.5 times greater than in the urban population.
• 95% of all cases were found to be mild TBI.
• 35% of people with acute TBI do not seek immediate medical attention.
• An estimated 54-60 million people worldwide sustain a TBI each year.
• Globally, some 2.2-3.6 million people incur moderate or severe TBI, which is almost six times higher than previous estimates.
• It is projected that TBI will become the third largest cause of global disease burden by 2020.


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