The findings of a study led by Oxford University shows that survivors of a traumatic brain injury (TBI) are three times more likely to die prematurely than the general population. For the study, researchers examined Swedish medical records covering 218,300 TBI survivors, which went back 41 years, as well as 150,513 siblings of TBI survivors and over 2 million control cases matched by sex and age from the general population. Researchers at Oxford University and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm carried out the research study.

According to a University of Oxford news release, the results of the study show that TBI survivors who also have a history of psychiatric disorders and substance abuse are at the highest risk of premature death (defined as death before the age of 56 years). The main causes of premature death in TBI patients are suicide and fatal injuries. The specific reasons for the increased risk of premature death are unknown, but a Science Daily news report notes that it may involve damage to the parts of the brain responsible for judgment, decision-making, and risk taking.

Seena Fazel, MD, states, “We found that people who survive 6 months after TBI remain three times more likely to die prematurely than the control population and 2.6 times more likely to die than unaffected siblings.”

Fazel adds, “This study highlights the important and as yet unanswered question of why TBI survivors are more likely to die young, but it may be that serious brain trauma has lasting effects on people’s judgement. People who have survived the acute effects of TBI should be more informed about these risks and how to reduce their impact.”

John Williams, PhD, head of neuroscience and mental health at the Wellcome Trust, says, “This new finding offers important insight into the longer-term impact of TBIs on the brain and their effect on survival later in life. We hope that further research into understanding which parts of the brain are responsible will help improve future management programmes and reduce the potential for premature death.”

Sources: Science Daily, University of Oxford