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Mike Tyson is getting back in the ring at 58 – what could go wrong?

Mike Tyson

By Stephen Hughes

If at 58, I were to agree to a boxing match with a person half my age, much alarm would be caused. My daughters would burst into tears, my partner would have strong words, and my students would have final confirmation that I had lost the plot. I, however, am not “Iron Mike” Tyson.

On July 20, the former heavyweight boxing world champion is due to step into the ring at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, to fight YouTuber-turned-boxer Jake Paul. Tyson will be 58, Paul will be 27.

Let’s take a look at what will be going on biologically for Iron Mike.

Receiving repeated blows to the body can tire a boxer out, and a well-aimed shovel hook to the liver can cause a “technical knockout”, but the head is the main target. Boxers are always looking for the knockout blow – and that only happens if you hit the head.

However, the head takes many forceful blows before a knockout is achieved – if it is achieved at all. Many boxers “go the distance” – in other words, manage to fight till the end, which can be anywhere from four to 12 rounds, each lasting three minutes. So what are the potential effects of all this head trauma?

The immediate effects may be minimal; the boxer may simply recover. But on some occasions, the effects may be devastating: a subdural haematoma can occur. In this condition, shearing forces cause tearing of bridging veins between the brain and blood vessels within the brain coverings, or meninges.

Bleeding from these torn veins causes a collection of blood that presses on the brain. This causes confusion, loss of consciousness, neurological disability and, in some cases, death.

In older people, the brain tends to lose volume. This lengthens the bridging veins and makes them more vulnerable to rupture. Alcoholism is known to accelerate brain shrinkage, and it appears that Tyson has this as a past risk factor.

I recall a patient, a boxer who had previously sustained a subdural haematoma and had physical disability and terrible depression. These were devastating permanent effects.

Shearing forces on the brain cause injury to neurons (brain cells). Nerve fibres can be torn and this can lead to effects that are either subtle or quite significant. This so-called “diffuse axonal injury” is cumulative over time and may lead to early loss of cognitive function. This is known as dementia pugilistica, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).


Stephen Hughes is Senior Lecturer in Medicine, Anglia Ruskin University


This article was originally published in The Conversation. To read the original article, click here

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