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Researchers believe common, affordable drug could prevent many head injury deaths

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A drug used to slow bleeding in surgery and childbirth could prevent deaths from the kind of brain injuries often suffered by professional fighters.

Brain Electrostimulation, Nmr
FILE PHOTO - MRI of a patient at Grenoble University Hospital in Grenoble, France.
Photo By BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images

Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are a constant threat in the world of combat sports. A number of competitors in both MMA and boxing have died from TBIs in recent years; including Joao Carvalho who died after an MMA fight in Dublin in 2016, Tim Hague who died after a boxing match in Edmonton in 2017 and Patrick Day who died after a boxing match in Chicago earlier this month.

In combat sports TBIs are typically suffered due to a heavy impact to the head that causes the brain to violently impact the inside of the skull. This action can cause blood vessels to be torn away, leading to bleeding inside of the brain. When blood pools within the brain it causes pressure between the brain and the skull. Unless there is timely surgical intervention the pressure can cause fatal brain damage.

TBIs can be difficult to diagnose quickly because sometimes there are no noticeable symptoms that someone is suffering from a brain bleed. Many fighters who have died from these injuries first experienced what is known as a lucid interval; where their brains are bleeding, but they are unable to tell that something is seriously wrong with them. Lucid intervals can last for minutes, hours, or even a couple of days. After these periods someone suffering a brain bleed may start experiencing symptoms, such as pain, disorientation, or loss of consciousness, that forces them to receive medical attention.

Because of lucid intervals, along with time spent transporting sufferers to trauma centers where brain surgery can be performed, medical intervention often occurs too late to save the lives of people who have suffered a TBI.

According to The Guardian researchers have discovered that a common drug might be able to help TBI sufferers, quickly, and possibly save their lives.

A study released in the medical journal Lancet this month revealed that a group of scientists from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine had concluded that tranexamic acid (TXA), which is already used to slow the rate of bleeding in stabbing and shooting victims, could also be used slow bleeding in the brain.

TXA is a widely available drug that is found in most operating rooms. It is routinely used in high risk surgeries to reduce the risk of hemorrhages. TXA is also used in some dental offices to reduce bleeding during surgeries and procedures. The drug is also commonly used after childbirth and is relatively affordable, with a standard dose costing approximately $8 per person.

“Previous to this research, patients with isolated head injuries were an exception in the policy of giving tranexamic acid to trauma patients as soon as possible,” said Prof Ian Roberts, who co-led the study. “Now that exception can be removed.”

Roberts stated that his study could have far-reaching implications if it became the norm for tranexamic acid to be administered to TBI suffers as soon as they are diagnosed. “Worldwide it has got the potential to save tens of thousands of lives – this is such a mass problem.”

Robert’s study examined cases from 29 countries involving over 9,000 patients who were treated within three hours of injury. The study found that transexamic acid lowered the risk of death for people who had suffered mild or moderate traumatic brain injuries.

“Bearing in mind that 90% of head injuries are mild and moderate, this is very good news because you have got something that can prevent the bleeding into the brain that could kill them, and if they don’t die they are in good shape,” said Roberts.