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Former rugby players may be 15 times as likely to develop motor neuron disease, study finds

BMJ 2022; 379 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.o2392 (Published 04 October 2022) Cite this as: BMJ 2022;379:o2392
  1. Elisabeth Mahase
  1. The BMJ

The risk of neurodegenerative disease among former Scottish international rugby union players is more than double that of the general population, a study has found.1

The researchers from the University of Glasgow matched 412 Scottish former international male rugby players with 1236 members of the public and looked at their health outcomes over an average of 32 years from the age of 30 onwards.

They found that the risk of developing a neurodegenerative disease varied by specific condition, from just over twice as high for dementia to up to 15 times as high for motor neuron disease.

The researchers are now calling for “dramatic changes” in rugby to cut the risks of head impact and traumatic brain injury, including by potentially stopping all contact training during the competitive season and even reducing the number of matches that players are expected to play in.

Speaking at a Science Media Centre briefing, consultant neuropathologist Willie Stewart, honorary professor at the University of Glasgow, said, “I am genuinely …

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