Amid the recent growing concern over concussions in youth, collegiate, and professional contact sports is a lesser known yet serious head injury: second impact syndrome or SIS occurs when an athlete suffers a blow to the head too soon after a concussion. Because the brain is more vulnerable after an initial brain injury, even minimal force could cause SIS which can lead to brainstem herniation and death.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention documented 17 deaths from the condition between 1992 and 1995 in a report that warned that the figures were very likely an underestimate. There have been numerous cases of SIS over time but the numbers are hard to gather because incidences of SIS are not documented well in medical literature. Additionally, of the incidences that have been reported, all have occurred in young people. Doctors believe this is because young brains are still developing and unlike mature brains, don’t have much room to accommodate swelling.
Education is the key to preventing SIS. All facets of youth and professional sports (athletes, parents, coaches, etc.) should be made aware of the dangers of SIS and the proper treatment for head injuries. Currently, legislation at the local and state levels is working its way throughout legislatures across the country to ensure that athletes do not return to sport on the same day that they are concussed and that they do not return to sport unless they have been cleared by a sports medicine professional.