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Hockey Hits Can Lead to Severe Traumatic Brain Injury

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(PITTSBURGH) -- Hits and checks have long been accepted as inherent to the game of hockey, but a decision by the NHL's biggest star to sit out of the game indefinitely represents only the latest professional athlete to suffer lasting injuries to the brain.

Sidney Crosby last week cited lingering concussion-like symptoms from at least one blow to the head that left him out of the game for 10 months.

"I've got to make sure with these sort of things that I'm careful and aware and making sure I'm 100 percent before I come back," Crosby, 24, told reporters in Pittsburgh last Monday. "You've got to listen to your body on these things."

Frustrated with the long-term risk of these sports, one neurologist, along with many others in agreement, called for a ban on intentional hitting and fighting in the game of hockey.

Dr. Rajendra Kale, neurologist and interim editor-in-chief of the journal CMAJ, published an editorial Monday that cites several athletes who experienced repetitive blows to the head during contact sports. Such hits led to severe medical problems, including short-term and long-term memory loss, chronic headaches, sleep disorders, mood and behavioral problems, psychiatric changes and even early onset dementia.

"When you find any tradition is causing damage to human's brain, it's time to change traditions," Kale told ABCNews.com. "We found traditions that are harmful and we need to give them up."

Symptoms of concussions include headache, nausea, confusion and loss of memory. Lingering effects can last for days, weeks or months, depending on the severity of the blow.

While Kale noted in the editorial that he was fascinated by the skill, grace and physical fitness needed to play hockey, he "was appalled by the disgraceful and uncivilized practice of fighting and causing intentional head trauma. The tragic story of Sidney Crosby's layoff due to concussions has not been sufficient for society to hang its head in shame and stop violent play immediately."

Kale cited three other hockey players -- Rick Martin, Reggie Fleming and Bob Probert -- who have been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalophy, or CTE, a progressive degenerative disease found in people who have sustained several concussions or other head injuries.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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