Symptom-based assessment of the severity of a concussion

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  • 1 Department of Neuroscience and Education, Columbia University, New York; HeadMinder, Inc., New York, New York; Department of Psychiatry, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York; Department of Surgery, Emerson Hospital, Concord, Massachusetts; Department of Psychiatric Medicine, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia; and Department of Psychology, Florida Institute of Technology, Melbourne, Florida
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Object. Current grading systems of concussion and return-to-play guidelines have little empirical support. The authors therefore examined the relationships of the characteristics and symptoms of concussion and the history of concussion to three indicators of concussion severity—number of immediate symptoms, number of symptoms at the initial follow-up examination, and duration of symptoms—to establish an empirical basis for grading concussions.

Methods. Forty-seven athletes who sustained concussions were administered alternate forms of an Internet-based neurocognitive test until their performances were within normal limits relative to baseline levels. Assessments of observer-reported and self-reported symptoms at the sideline of the playing field on the day of injury, and at follow-up examinations were also obtained as part of a comprehensive concussion management protocol.

Although loss of consciousness (LOC) was a useful indicator of the initial severity of the injury, it did not correlate with other indices of concussion severity, including duration of symptoms. Athletes reporting memory problems at follow-up examinations had significantly more symptoms in general, longer durations of those symptoms, and significant decreases in scores on neurocognitive tests administered approximately 48 hours postinjury. This decline of scores on neurocognitive testing was significantly associated with an increased duration of symptoms. A history of concussion was unrelated to the number and duration of symptoms.

Conclusions. This paper represents the first documentation of empirically derived indicators of the clinical course of postconcussion symptom resolution. Self-reported memory problems apparent 24 hours postconcussion were robust indicators of the severity of sports-related concussion and should be a primary consideration in determining an athlete's readiness to return to competition. A decline on neurocognitive testing was the only objective measure significantly related to the duration of symptoms. Neither a brief LOC nor a history of concussion was a useful predictor of the duration of postconcussion symptoms.

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Contributor Notes

Address reprint requests to: David Erlanger, Ph.D., 3 East 65th Street, Suite 5B, New York, New York 10021. email: david@headminder.com.
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