A recent study in Britain showed that people who suffer a brain injury have a higher risk of dying within 13 years of the injury. Researchers compared the death rates of hospital patients for all types of injury and found that those with head injuries showed higher mortality rates. Patients with head injuries were twice as likely to die during the thirteen years following the injury. However, those who survived beyond 13 years fared no worse than the general population.

The Numbers

The study looked at more than 2,000 residents of Glasgow. Of those, 757 suffered a head injury requiring hospital admission between 1995 and 1996. [1] The remaining individuals consisted of patients treated at the hospital for other injuries during the same period and non-injured members of the surrounding community. The study made comparisons matching patients of similar age, gender and economic status.

Of the brain-injured individuals, 40 percent (305) were dead within 13 years of the injury. This rate eclipsed the average 19 percent death rate of the general community and of 28 percent for those suffering from non head-related injuries.

In the study, those with head injuries were 3 times more likely to die due to respiratory, circulatory, digestive, mental health and/or external causes up to 13 years after head injury when compared to the surrounding community. The participants who had sustained other injuries were also likely to die from those causes but were not as at-risk as the head injury patients. Researchers found that these death rates were unaffected by demographics. Location, economic status and occupation showed no difference in the death rates.

First Year after Injury the Most Dangerous

Most of the people who died following head injury passed within the first year. This is a common finding for brain-injured patients who typically have the most room for improvement in the first year. After that, the risk of death decreased gradually over time. This study should change the way doctors view treatment for head injuries, providing a strong argument that medical monitoring should continue much longer than one year after injury.

Bigger Problem for Younger Adults

The research also showed that the danger of death after head injury was greatest for young adults. Those between the ages of 15 and 25 were 5 times more likely to die than even older healthy populations within the community. This is of particular concern because people in this age group are also among the most likely to suffer head injuries.

Higher Risk of Death for Athletes

Understandably, people with the most severe injuries were the most likely to die from their injuries within a year. From then on, however, the risk of death was about the same for all brain-injured patients, regardless of the severity of the injury. This result causes great concern for those facing higher risks of mild brain injury, such as athletes. The seemingly minor injuries they suffer during play could have disastrous consequences years later.