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JAMA Study: TBI Sufferers are 3 Times More Likely to Die Early

A new study in the journal “JAMA Psychiatry” revealed some disturbing information about people who have suffered traumatic brain injuries. After sorting through data on more than 218,000 people who had suffered TBIs, researchers concluded that having experienced such an injury was associated with a much greater risk of premature death seemingly unrelated to the injuries themselves.

The researchers looked at patients’ records at six months after they’d suffered a traumatic brain injury, and then five years later. They compared the TBI patients with two control groups: more than two million people who had never suffered a brain injury, and some 150,000 non-injured siblings of the TBI sufferers. After six months, around 2,255 of the 218,000 TBI sufferers had died from unrelated causes.

What they learned was that the death rate among TBI sufferers was three times as high as that of the control groups, and that the increased risk continued for five years. They did not find a causal connection between the brain injury and the increased mortality risk, but the association was alarmingly strong.

Three of the most common causes of death among brain injury survivors were assault, accidents and suicide — factors accounting for some 55 percent of the early deaths. Those with psychiatric problems or substance abuse issues were at the greatest risk of premature death.

Unfortunately, surviving a TBI is known to increase the risk that the patient will develop a psychiatric condition or addiction. Some 61 percent of the study group had mental illnesses or substance abuse problems, both of which likely contribute to the risk of assault, accidents and suicide.

Moreover, some personality traits and social factors associated with premature death among TBI survivors are the very same ones thought to increase the risk for TBI in the first place.

“These people are being injured because they’re impulsive and thrill-seeking,” commented a medical expert involved with the report. “These vulnerable personality characteristics are getting them not only into their first head injury, but into a subsequent head injury and that’s causing this premature death.”

These findings could help ensure more effective care for our nation’s veterans, athletes and others with an increased risk of sustaining a traumatic head injury. Doctors should incorporate monitoring for suicidal ideation, drug abuse and risk factors for subsequent injuries into their treatment plan for people with TBIs.

Source: WebMD News from HealthDay, “Brain Injuries May Raise Risk of Early Death,”Steven Reinberg, HealthDay, Jan. 15, 2014