Vol. 33, No. 2     Fall 2010
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How is a Concussion Like a Heart Attack?

Ask Stan Herring, M.D.

Jamal K. Gwathney, M.D. ’99, MPH
Stan Herring, M.D.

If you’re a certain age, you may remember learning to ride a bike without a helmet or riding in your parents’ car without a seatbelt. Then came bike helmets, seatbelt laws and shifts in public consciousness about safety.

Stanley A. Herring, M.D., UW clinical professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine and co-medical director of the Seattle Sports Concussion Program, thinks the time is right to make a shift in consciousness about concussion. Here’s a mental exercise Herring uses with coaches, parents and the press.

Imagine you’re at dinner with friends or family. To your left, a dinner guest clutches their chest, starts to sweat and complains of pain in their left arm. What’s probably happening? Indigestion. What could be happening? A heart attack. What’s prudent, given that you don’t know? Calling 9-1-1.

We’ve all been taught to call 9-1-1 in case there’s a chance of heart attack, says Herring. Failing to do so can lead to disaster. Now we need to pay closer attention to people, especially student athletes, who sustain a head injury. If they
are removed from play after a suspected concussion, tragedy
can be avoided.

“When in doubt,” says Herring, “sit them out.”

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