Does boxing cause brain damage?
Following his victory over Manny Pacquiao in the World Welterweight Championship earlier this month, professional boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. announced he’s hanging up the gloves for good after his final bout in September.
Boxers typically have long careers, but according to some medical experts, undergoing repeated preventable brain trauma for sport and entertainment is not worth the risk. For years, doctors have made the connection between multiple head injuries and posttraumatic seizures, Parkinson’s disease, early cognitive changes, mood changes and dementia.
“Common in contact sports such as hockey, football and boxing, multiple concussions can lead to a syndrome known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy,” says Dr. Raina Gupta, neurologist at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago. “CTE is the accumulation of abnormal proteins in brain cells.”
Prior head injury and older age are also risk factors for more persistent symptoms of head injuries.
According to a recent article in Forbes, Paquiao’s doctors were concerned he showed signs of Parkinson’s disease after he was knocked out in 2012.
“A knockout is an episode of loss of consciousness due to head injury,” says Dr. Gupta. “Usually there is swelling and bruising of the brain due to an impact of the head leading to the brain hitting the skull with force.
“Over time, these swellings accumulate and lead to CTE. In worst-case scenarios, significant swelling of the brain can lead to bleeding in the brain, seizures and death.”
In order to stay safe and lessen their risk of brain injuries, Dr. Gupta recommends boxers and others in head-contact sports do the following:
- See a neurologist regularly
- Undergo neurologic exams
- Have neuroimaging and neuropsychological testing
“Boxing will have long-term effects, but following closely with a professional can help determine how severe these effects are and when it is recommended to stop boxing due to increased health risk,” says Dr. Gupta.
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