Published online in Neurosurgery, the official journal of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons (CNS), in August, the “Concussion Guidelines Step 2: Evidence for Subtype Classification,” provides support for re-thinking the way we diagnose concussion.

Angela K. Lumba-Brown, MD, co-director of the Stanford Brain Performance Center, Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at Stanford University, and co-author of the guideline, states that because concussion symptoms may vary greatly from person to person, early subtyping can direct strategies for recovery.

The study represents the work of a multidisciplinary team of experts across the country, unified to define five common concussion subtypes:

1. Headache/Migraine
2. Vestibular
3. Cognitive
4. Oculomotor
5. Anxiety/Mood

Notably, two concussion-associated conditions — sleep disturbance and cervical strain — often occur in relation to subtypes, but do not stand alone as concussion diagnostic criteria.

Through a rigorous review of the scientific literature and meta-analysis, the expert workgroup identified differences in the prevalence of each subtype shortly following head injury. Studying the first few days following a concussion is critical because the majority of scientific literature to-date examines concussion signs and symptoms spanning the first week to a month following injury, during which large variability in recovery patterns occur.

  • This study provides support for the presence of all five subtypes as early as three days following injury — directing an urgent change in the way concussion is currently diagnosed. For example:
    Anxiety and mood symptoms, often thought to manifest much later in the concussion course, are present in a large portion of patients early on.
  • Both children and adults exhibit vestibular impairments immediately following a concussion, representing an opportunity for early intervention with vestibular therapies.

This work demonstrates that a comprehensive, initial concussion assessment should incorporate evaluations of all five subtypes and two associated conditions. This work was supported by the Brain Trauma Evidence-Based Consortium, a U.S. Department of Defense-funded project in collaboration with the Brain Performance Center at Stanford University and the Brain Trauma Foundation.

To read the full Neurosurgery article, click here.

Editor’s Note: We encourage everyone to join the conversation online by using the hashtag #CNSGuidelines.

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