You may have heard of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) more frequently lately — it’s possible that they could be happening more often; it may also be a matter of increased awareness about their existence. Maybe it’s both. According to a new study, there has been a significant increase in emergency room visits due to TBIs — a nearly 30 percent increase between 2006 and 2010.

Traumatic brain injuries contribute to about 30 percent of all injury deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They are caused by some trauma to the head, such as a hit or blow, which manages to interrupt the “normal function” of the brain. Mild TBIs are called concussions, and these are fairly common, but often weren’t considered serious until recently. There were some 2.5 million ER visits, hospitalizations, or deaths related to TBIs in 2010.

In the study, the researchers reviewed data from the Nationwide Emergency Department Sample (NEDS) database, which represented about a 20 percent stratified sample of emergency visits. The study found that most of the increase occurred in cases that involved concussions or unspecified head injuries, and mostly among children.

A study released last year found that ER visits for child traumatic brain injuries actually increased by 92 percent in 10 years — a significant number, though the rate of hospitalizations actually stayed the same — around 10 percent. Researchers hypothesized that an increase in sports activities and intensity could be one of the underlying reasons behind the increase, but it could also be traced to a boost in awareness about the dangers of TBIs. Since parents are more educated about TBIs, they’re able to notice the signs of concussions and get their kids treated immediately more so than in the past. The study authors also note that traumatic brain injury has garnered more attention as of late, in which the public’s awareness and education about the dangers of TBI and concussions has increased for the better.

Falls and “unintentional blunt trauma” are the leading factors behind TBIs. Car crashes and assaults are also listed as major causes of TBIs. The CDC’s data backs up the study, noting that TBI-related ER visits have indeed increased significantly especially in the past several years. The number of hospitalizations, however, has remained pretty stable, and the number of deaths from traumatic brain injuries has actually decreased. So overall, it appears the numbers are improving — as awareness and education about the potential dangers of head injuries increases, so do ER visits; at the same time, the mortality rate has been decreasing. If you're uncertain whether someone has had a TBI or a mild concussion, taking them to medical care is important.

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