11 January 2000

Blow Your Mind

by Kate Melville

While riding a roller coaster may be great fun, it apparently can increase your risk of developing blood clots on the brain. These clots (also known as sub-dural hematomas) can compress the brain and lead to permanent brain damage, seizures or even death.

The Japanese researchers who undertook this study reported a case where a healthy 24-year-old woman developed blood clots, after riding several roller coasters during a day at an amusement park (the Fujiyama park also happens to be one of the highest and fastest roller coasters in the world). According to Dr. Toshio Fukutake, of Chiba University School of Medicine, "Although it is rare for people to develop sub-dural hematomas after riding roller coasters, it can happen. We suspect that many cases have been overlooked.

Giant roller coasters, which are higher and faster than typical roller coasters, may be more dangerous. Managers at amusement parks and people who enjoy these rides need to be aware of the potential health risks." Dr. Fukutake's researchers reported that the woman developed a headache after her visit, four days later she sought medical attention and after a series of tests she was diagnosed with tension headaches and was given muscle relaxants. Subsequently the headaches did not improve and after another 8 weeks, the woman was given an magnetic resonance imaging exam, which showed she had two sub-dural hematomas. The patient's hematomas were removed during cranial surgery and immediately after the operation her headaches stopped and eight weeks later she was fully recovered

Sub-dural hematomas are extremely rare in young women. The condition occurs typically in older men particularly those with alcoholism, hypertension or diabetes. Many other factors can cause a sub-dural hematoma and they include head trauma, strain from heavy lifting, severe sneezing and coughing.

The symptoms of a sub-dural hematoma include walking difficulties, vomiting and lowered mental ability. "The woman's sub-dural hematomas and resulting headaches may have been caused by the up-and-down, back-and-forth motions of the roller coaster or the acceleration force may have been strong enough to rupture veins on the surface of her brain," said Fukutake.

Researchers have also found three other cases of people developing sub-dural hematomas after riding roller coasters.

So next time you (or your kids) want to go higher and faster on a huge roller coaster, then you now have a scientific reason say no (without needing to admit that really you're just too scared).