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Thursday, 10 January, 2002, 01:18 GMT
Rollercoaster risk warning
Rollercoasters are getting bigger and better
Rollercoasters are getting bigger and better
Amusement park rides may be the cause of unexplained head, neck and back injuries seen in accident and emergency department, doctors have warned.

Some rides reach G-forces exceeding those experienced by space shuttle astronauts.

The risk of injury is small, but US researchers warn that as the competition increases to build faster, more thrilling rides, the number of injuries and even deaths will rise - something they say should be remembered by casualty doctors assessing patients.

Patients should also be warned of the potential dangers on theme park rides, they say.

The research is published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

Risks

Doctors reviewed previous reports of amusement park injuries and fatalities published in the medical literature and data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), as well as literature on physics and physiologic effects of roller coasters.

Looking at the CPSC data and taking into account the 900m amusement park rides visitors take in the US each year, the authors calculated that the risk of injury requiring medical attention was one in 124,000 rides.


We're concerned roller coaster G-forces will reach and exceed the body's threshold of tolerance, giving rise to a wave of amusement park injuries each year

Dr Robert Braksiek, Researcher
CPSC figures show injuries on fixed-site amusement parks increased by 95% between 1996 and 1999, while attendance only increased by 6.5%.

They estimated the risk of sustaining an injury which needed hospital treatment was one in 15m rides, and the risk of being fatally injured was one in 150m rides.

G-force

During the past 10 years, there have been 15 reports in medical literature of life-threatening brain injuries caused by riding rollercoasters.

Several of the authors of these reports have said giant roller coasters produce enough G-forces to cause brain injury.

Potential head injuries include subdural haematoma, a serious injury characterised by blood under a membrane surrounding the brain.

Rides could also cause other health problems including seizures and back injuries.

The researchers of this latest study believe federal legislation passed in 1981, which exempted large, fixed-site amusement parks from reporting injuries or undergoing accident investigations by the CPSC, led to the actual number of injuries per year to be underestimated.

Competition

Dr Robert Braksiek, of Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, who led the study, said: "Although the risk of injury from amusement park rides today is low, our research uncovered a worrisome trend in the number and rate of amusement park injuries.

"It is important for healthcare providers when evaluating patients with neurological symptoms to ask if they have been on any of these thrill rides."

He added: "With fierce competition to build faster, more thrilling rides, we're concerned roller coaster G-forces will reach and exceed the body's threshold of tolerance, giving rise to a wave of amusement park injuries each year.

"As these injuries occur it is important that physicians are vigilant in reporting these injuries to authorities to help determine whether these rides are unsafe."

Mr John Firth, a consultant neurosurgeon who speaks on behalf of the head injury charity Headway, told BBC News Online he agreed with the US researchers.

He said: "When an A&E department is near an amusement park, if someone comes in holding their neck, the first thing is 'have they been on a ride?'."

But he said because people travelled long distances to go to such parks, all casualty doctors had to bear the possibility in mind.

He added that sometimes in A&E, patients failed to tell doctors - or doctors failed to ask.

See also:

24 Oct 00 | Health
Head injuries link to Alzheimer's
29 Jun 99 | Health
Headache's secrets revealed
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