Willie Stewart, PhD, MBChB, stresses the importance of educating medical professionals about TBI
“Simply, concussion is a traumatic brain injury,” says Dr. Willie Stewart. As a Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Glasgow and Consultant Neuropathologist at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Dr. Stewart is dedicated to researching traumatic brain injury (TBI) and its outcomes. If mismanaged, he says, this type of TBI could have catastrophic effects on an individual. But even as a leading concussion researcher, and a founding member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the International Concussion Society, Dr. Stewart waited 36 hours for his concussion to be recognized after a bike accident two years ago. Below, he discusses the importance of educating medical professionals about TBI and shares the current state of concussion research.
How have concussions impacted your life or career?
The University of Glasgow has been at the forefront of researching traumatic brain injury and its outcomes for many decades, supported by the Glasgow TBI Archive. Our work used to focus largely on outcomes from single moderate or severe TBI and its link to dementia in particular. At the time, the risks of exposure to repetitive mild TBI were thought to be almost exclusively for former boxers.
In the last decade, there is a growing awareness of what we now recognize as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which has brought a realization that late neurodegenerative outcomes of TBI aren’t restricted to car accidents or boxing but are also a concern in other sports like rugby and football. This has transformed research in our field.
Have you ever experienced a concussion personally? Tell us about that time.
Besides multiple occasions as a youth rugby player, I was hit by a car in 2016 on my regular cycle commute to work. Multiple broken bones were identified within hours, but it took 36 hours for mild TBI to be recognized, despite my having no recall of the accident.
In your opinion, why is it so important to educate your field about concussions?
Some estimates suggest that TBI is a contributing factor to between 5 and 10% of dementia. However, CTE remains a remarkably rare diagnosis in all but specialist research centers like my lab in Glasgow. To make any significant progress in understanding the effects and outcomes of concussion and wider TBI, we need to increase awareness of CTE and its diagnosis.
If you could share one piece of information about concussion, what would it be?
Concussion is a form of traumatic brain injury with immediate and late effects that we know little about as of now. There are no objective strategies for its diagnosis, but we do know mismanaged concussion can have catastrophic outcomes. As such, “if in doubt, sit them out.”
Willie Stewart, PhD, MBChB, is a member of the Scientific Advisory Board for the International Concussion Society. Concussion.org, sponsored by ICS, is the No. 1 destination for information related to concussion prevention, diagnosis and treatment. Our mission is to serve medical professionals, athletes, administrators, coaches, patients and the public by providing a central repository of accurate and scientifically vetted concussion research. Working alongside our world-class scientific advisory board, Concussion.org aims to be the most trusted global index on one of the most common, yet least understood, forms of traumatic brain injury.