Refusing to leave the field, CTE hits South Korean soccer players

Written by By Maggie Huang, CNN The South Korean doctor who diagnoses concussions in professional soccer also sees young people with an increased risk of concussion.

Chang-Ryung Lee has seen the damage concussions can do over the years. This April, the A*STAR-affiliated Professor of Interventional Radiology was on hand to treat an athlete who’d suffered a minor blow.

“The assessment showed a complete loss of consciousness, no mobility, no ability to communicate,” he told CNN. “It was a late impact, about three or four seconds. Then the person started to look like he was well-preserved, like ‘Oh, I think it was a simple bump.’ But at around 7-8 seconds it suddenly started to take a more pronounced shape and I said, ‘You need to get off the field!’ Because it is a red flag that it’s more than a nuisance. And these things actually, in extreme cases, can be fatal.”

This was the first case of its kind for Lee, a specialist in CTE , a progressive brain disorder thought to be caused by blows to the head. He was tasked with treating a person so severely hurt that they almost certainly suffered a concussion.

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Sudden swelling

Lee isn’t seeing anything in individuals here in South Korea. But his colleagues have been alerted to two other suspected cases, of adolescents from three different provinces, one of whom appeared to be showing signs of concussion .

Initially, he was baffled about the young woman’s explanation for the swelling: she kept running her hands across her neck, making odd sounds, at a slow pace, reportedly after a collision with another player. Even her right arm was flexed, which is unusual, considering her head injury.

“To me, that’s not normal,” he said. “If you’re concussed, in many ways the limbs don’t form like that, because this arm was actually deflected and they have to keep their balance.”

“If you come back, not just immediately after the event, but within the 24 hours,” he added, “they should feel less like [they are] running like that or lifting like that. That’s really very abnormal.”

Further tests have been sought on both cases, but to date, he is unable to make a conclusive diagnosis. With this in mind, he suspects it is not clear if these cases of suspected concussions present a new strain, or whether, in fact, concussions, in different people, can display different symptoms.

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What to do if you’re having symptoms

Lee wants to see more evidence that this is the case. Still, he is more concerned about the overall rate of concussions in young players. “If you look at the percentage of concussions in high school, it’s approximately 15%. If you are [talking] about a young athlete in their late 20s, it’s maybe 30% or more.”

At the time of this writing, only a handful of players in the Premier League have been diagnosed with the game’s latest medical challenge: the ‘sudden onset concussion syndrome’ that appears to be sweeping through soccer matches.

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Lee says that at least in his experience, people who are concussed to this degree would not be able to continue. That, he argues, would risk affecting their health, rather than just disrupting their view of the game.

“I would definitely recommend them to leave the field,” he said. “That’s not only about leaving the field. If you have this kind of issue, then it is very difficult for you to control how your brain will function after that.”

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