Researchers Investigate the Deadly Second-Impact Syndrome

Researchers plan to investigate head injuries in a six year effort, which they will fund themselves for now but they are desperately seeking funding, according to U.S. News and World Report. They believe their research will point to a head injury whose very existence is doubted right now, second-impact syndrome. The injury almost exclusively preys on young male athletes.

second-impact syndrome

Football can be a dangerous sport. The deadly second-impact syndrome is of particular concern to researchers. (Flickr / Creative Commons / Mike Hoff)

The hallmark of the syndrome is severe swelling in one or both sides of the brain. The swelling pushes the brain into the skull and sometimes down the spinal column. Many doctors think that the brain’s plumbing breaks down and releases a flood of blood and fluids caused by two blows to the head, first a malfunction then a full rupture. The two blows can occur within seconds or weeks of each other. Much of the injury, such as why it occurs to why it only strikes young men, is still mysterious.

Second impact syndrome can occur with any two blows to the head. It is usually the product of someone experiencing post-concussive symptoms who returns to play and sustains a second head injury. The result can be brain swelling, herniation, and death. Although it is rare, it is devastating in that young men can die within a few minutes.

Courts have started awarding large sums of money to players who apparently died because of second impact syndrome.

There is no governing body of players expected to play middle and high school football this season, which makes it hard to get the word out to family members and student athletes.

Every year since 1995, at least one middle or high school student has died from playing football, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research.

This season has already seen its first victim just ten days into practice, 14-year-old Lewis Simpkins, who collapsed during drills. Cause of death is under investigation.

The arterioles that carry blood to the brain expand and contract to regulate blood flow. In second impact syndrome, the arterioles don’t work right, dilating and opening a flood that engorges the brain. One of the only treatments is to remove part of the skull, a technique also used in car crashes, but even then hope is slim.

The trend seems to be that these young athletes suffered a previous concussion. When this wasn’t the case, researchers hypothesized that they may have been able to hide a concussive hit from their coaches and teammates.

The cause of the arteriole malfunction is unknown and the rarity of second impact syndrome is still a mystery.

Not all physicians agree that second-impact syndrome exists. Researchers hope to learn what they can about second-impact syndrome and then harness that knowledge to teach coaches, teammates, and parents how to recognize concussions and why they should definitely care.


Gordon Johnson

Attorney Gordon Johnson is one of the nations leading brain injury advocates. He is Past-Chair of the TBILG, a national group of more than 150 brain injury advocates. He has spoken at numerous brain injury seminars and is the author of some of the most read brain injury web pages on the internet.

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