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Will Smith talks about the risk of head injury in American football

Will Smith stars as Dr Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian forensic pathologist who fought against efforts by the National Football League to suppress his research on brain damage suffered by professional American football players.

The biographical sports drama is directed by Peter Landesman and was released in December 2015.

While American football is very popular in America,  one of our most physically challenging national sports in the UK is rugby. Epilepsy Society caught up with the experts about the risks the game carries for players..

Ex- international Wales rugby player Jonathan Thomas recently retired from rugby due to his epilepsy.  He said: "Rugby has plenty of protocols in place around concussion and return-to-play, but a player can always fool a medic into thinking they are ok.  If you are in a cup final, then of course you just want to keep on playing at all costs.

"I think we have to start educating today's children to be more conscious of the importance of safety and to understand and recognise the symptoms of trauma."

Epilepsy Society's medical director, Professor Ley Sander commented: " Not all head injuries will result in brain injury or epilepsy but minor head injuries can be accumulative and may result in the onset of seizures.  An assault to the brain may result in a scar or a lesion which can cause bursts of unusual electrical activity in that area.  Seizures may occur within the first week following an injury or they may not occur until many years later.

"Personal response to injury is very individual.  Ten people could experience exactly the same insult to the brain, yet maybe only a few of them would develop epilepsy.  We do not know for sure why this is but we suspect there may be an underlying genetic contribution that means some people have a lower seizure threshold.  The blow to the head may then become the trigger rather than the cause of the seizures.

"In a contact sport such as rugby, protecting the skull and the brain-blood barrier is of paramount importance and protective headgear, especially for players in the scrum, is imperative.  It is vital to minimise risk."

Epilepsy Society neurologist, Professor Matthias Koepp explained that American football "is much faster than rugby and the acceleration/ deceleration traumas caused are a known trigger for dementia."

He added:  "I would say that for anyone with epilepsy, the risks of head injury and subsequent neurodegenerative disease are the same as for anyone else.  Having epilepsy should not be a barrier to playing the game but it should be a conversation with a neurologist."

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