IOM’s Damien McElvenny calls for caution on reporting long-term effects of head injuries in sports

13.02.2019

Today in The Lancet Neurology, experts in research and clinical practice in brain injury from around the world have asked for balanced news reporting when discussing chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

Damien McElvenny, Principal Epidemiologist with IOM has added his signature alongside a group 60 leading international neuroscientists calling for caution when reporting on the potential late effects of head injuries in sport.

A type of dementia associated with exposure to repeated concussions, CTE has been linked with a variety of contact sports such as boxing, football, American football and rugby.  

However, the letter’s authors are concerned about the tone of reporting around this issue – specifically the lack of acknowledgement that CTE is at an early stage of scientific and medical understanding, with many important aspects of the disease yet to be established. 

Crucially, although CTE is commonly discussed in scientific papers and the media, there is often a failure to note that there is only preliminary agreement on how to recognise this disease and no agreement on how to assess its severity.  There is also no clear understanding of the link between CTE pathology and any specific symptoms.

The corresponding author, Dr Willie Stewart, Consultant Neuropathologist and Honorary Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Glasgow, said: “In recent years there has been a worrying trend to imply that the causes, diagnosis and prevalence of CTE are fully understood, or at least that data to date leave little doubt.” 

IOM’s leading Epidemiology expert, Prof Damien McElvenny, said:Not every sportsperson who suffers from dementia will necessarily have had CTEThus is too early to search for CTE and conclude that head injury in sport must have caused a person’s dementia.”

Read the letter here.

For more information on our work within neurodegenerative diseases click here

About the Author
Prof Damien McElvenny Principal Epidemiologist

Damien is a biostatistician and epidemiologist working in the Data Science and Epidemiology Section of Research Division and is a chartered statistician and chartered scientist.  He has over 30 years' experience working in a variety roles relating to the statistical analysis of health data in the public and private sector.  .  Damien joined IOM in 2011 and has successfully led projects related to cancer in the lead, rubber and hard-metal industries as well as projects on trauma and cancer.  He has led a number of consultancy projects, including medico-legal reports on occupational epidemiology.  Damien is IOM's lead for the BRAIN and HEADING studies that are examining the effect of concussion and heading football on elite and professional athletes.  He is secretary of the UK/Ireland Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Society and Secretary of the EPIOCH Management Committee.  He is an Honorary Member of the Society of Occupational Medicine.

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