5 Things You Need to Know About Sports Concussions

By Dr. Viral Patel

More than a million people are affected by concussions every year, according to a Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

For the first time in nearly 15 years the American Academy of Neurology has changed their guidelines for management of sports concussions. The new guidelines, published Monday in the online issue of the journal Neurology, have been endorsed by numerous advocacy groups including NFL Players Association, American Football Coaches Association, National Athletic Trainers Association, and the National Association of Emergency Service Physicians.

To explain the new recommendations and get the word out about how to prevent, diagnose and treat concussions, ABC News' chief health and medical correspondent Dr. Richard Besser hosted a Twitter Chat on the subject Tuesday. Dr. Christopher Giza, a children's neurologist at the University of California in Los Angeles and one of the lead authors of the guidelines was a special guest on the chat. Experts from the American Academy of Neurology, Mayo Clinic, as well as clinicians, parents and coaches with personal experience also joined in the one-hour discussion.

Click here to read the full chat transcript. In the meantime, here are five take home points about the new concussion guidelines you need to know.

When in Doubt, Sit it Out

A concussion, usually caused by a knock to the head or violent shaking, is a head injury leading to neurological and physical symptoms - even without loss of consciousness. The new guidelines recommend that every athlete suspected of having a concussion should be immediately removed from play and not be returned until symptom free, and cleared by a health care professional trained in concussion management. Old guidelines allowed athletes to return to the game if they only had a "mild" concussion and weren't knocked out but our expert chatters said there is no such thing as a "small" concussion. Every hit is potentially serious and should be treated conservatively.

All Sports are Risky. Some More than Others.

While football is thought of as the most dangerous sport for concussions, other sports are high risk too. According to Dr. Christopher Giza, one of the authors of the new paper, soccer, lacrosse, hockey and boxing are also considered high-risk sports. So are equestrian sports and cheerleading. Any sport where head trauma is possible, a concussion can occur and therefore, athletes and coaches should be educated about concussion.

Women are at higher risk

Overall 71 percent of all injuries were among males. Yet female athletes are nearly twice as likely to have a concussion compared to males playing the same sport. Most females sustained concussions while playing soccer, basketball or cycling. It's unknown why females are at higher risk.

Risks are Long Term

Athletes diagnosed with one concussion are far more likely to be diagnosed with another concussion in the future. In fact, previous incidence of concussion is the number one predictor for future concussions. A new study released just last week indicated that even one concussion can lead to permanent brain injury.

Education is Essential

All our expert chatters agreed that more needs to be done to educate athletes, caregivers and coaches about the importance of identifying the signs and symptoms of concussion. They say a larger emphasis should be placed on prevention. They also cautioned that young athletes - high school and below - need greater protection and care since they are the most likely to experience concussion.