Second Impact Syndrome: rare but often fatal

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25-year old Boxer Mike Towell  (BBC photo)
WESTBOROUGH, MA October 8, 2016 Second impact syndrome is a rare but generally catastrophic injury that results from a second blow to the head that immediately follows a concussive injury – often undiagnosed or an injury that was previously diagnosed but not fully healed. The second injury to an already damaged brain results in catastrophic swelling within the brain often incompatible with survival.  Scottish boxer Mike Trowell died of a severe brain injury occurring in a sanctioned boxing match in Glasgow, Scotland on September 29.
Essentially, “second impact syndrome” or SIS results from the brain’s inability to autoregulate cerebral perfusion pressure and swelling as a result of repeated cerebral trauma. This leaves an athlete gravely injured unless immediate neurosurgical intervention can be provided (Bey & Ostick, 2009).  Sadly, even with the best care many patients with SIS succumb to their injuries within a few minutes. Most believe that concussions create a metabolic crisis in the brain that results in a gross change in cerebral efficiency – an inability to match the external cerebral energy demand – especially sporting activity at the elite level.
In general, if the brain fully heals an athlete is at no greater risk of concussion than someone who has never sustained a concussion.  However, when an athlete returns to play before he or she is fully healed they are at high risk for a second or third concussion and at risk for SIS. It is well know that there is a cumulative effect of injury to the brain with repeated trauma. In fact, repeated trauma results in a significant reduction in brain volume that can seriously reduce information processing speed and other neurocognitive functions according to a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2015. The greater number of fights resulting in more blows to the head has a significant impact on speed of processing. Certainly a well established link between repeated head trauma and dementia, depression, and other signs of neurocognitive decline has been found in U.S. football players.
Boxer fatally injured with second impact that was sustained in a fight in Scotland recently.  Scottish Boxer Mike Towell was critically injured on September 30, 2016 during a fight with Dale Evans in Glasgow, Scotland.  According to the BBC, Towell was knocked to the mat in the first round of a 10 round bout.  He was given a standing 8 count and continued the fight.  Some said he dominated the next two rounds when finally in the fifth round he was again knocked down and the fight was ended.  He was transported to the trauma center in Glasgow ultimately being placed on life support.  He lived 12 hours once the decision had been made to terminate life support.  His partner Chloe Ross reported that Towell had been experiencing headaches in the weeks prior to the fight that were attributed to stress.  Medical authorities may not have allowed Towell to fight had the recent history been known. Towell may have been highly vulnerable to concussion as a result of his boxing history and unique neurocognitive underpinning.  So when he stayed in the fight he unknowingly put himself at risk for lethal injury.
REFERENCES
Bey,T and Ostick, B. Second Impact Syndrome West J Emerg Med. 2009 Feb; 10(1): 6–10 Taken October 1, 2016
Loosemore, M., et al. Boxing injury epidemiology in the Great Britain team: a 5-year surveillance study of medically diagnosed injury incidence and outcome. British Journal of Sports Medicine doi:10.1136/bjsports-2015-094755.
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