By: Seth R. Gemme, MD
The ACEP Clinical Policies Committee regularly reviews guidelines published by other organizations and professional societies. Periodically, new guidelines are identified on topics with particular relevance to the clinical practice of emergency medicine. This article highlights recommendations for the education, recognition, and management of concussions, published by the American Academy of Neurology in June, 2013.
Concussions have become a popular topic of concern in the media and with the public over the last several years as many amateur and professional athletes have had career ending head injuries. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, concussion visits to the emergency department have increased, likely as a result of the increased awareness. Thus there is a need for a better understanding of the neurocognitive pathology and risks associated with a concussion.
In June of 2013, the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) published a guideline focusing on the risk factors of concussion, clinical features associated with worse outcome, and management. They graded the literature since 1955 using a modified version of the GRADE working group process and made recommendations using a modified Delphi process.
Various risk factors were investigated. There was not enough evidence that age made a difference in risk of concussion. With regards to gender, men make up the majority of concussions, likely due to more men playing contact sports, with the greatest risk in American football and Australian rugby. Females were found to be at higher risk if participating in soccer or basketball versus other sports. There is no evidence that mouth guards protect athletes from concussion in any sport. In American football, there is no evidence regarding superiority of one type of football helmet in preventing concussion. Other factors associated with greater risk include a BMI of greater than 27 or training for less than three hours per week. In addition, it is likely that there is an increased risk for repeat concussion within 10 days of the initial concussion.
Clinical features associated with severe or prolonged early postconcussion impairments include a history of prior concussion, early post-traumatic headache, fatigue or fogginess at the time of diagnosis, early amnesia, altered mental status or disorientation, or younger age. Increasing concussion exposure is a risk factor for chronic neurobehavioral impairment in a broad range of professional contact sports but evidence is insufficient in amateur sports of whether or not prior concussion exposure increases chronic cognitive impairment.
The AAN recommends that school-based professionals, athletes, and parents be educated by a designated licensed health care provider (LHCP) about concussions in general and associated risks. A LHCP is one who has acquired skills and knowledge relevant to the evaluation and management of sport concussions and is practicing within his or her scope of practice. This can be either a sideline or clinical LHCP. AAN also recommends that assessment tools be used by the sideline LHCP and those results be made available to the clinical LHCP. One sideline tool discussed is the Standardized Assessment of Concussion which can be administered in 6-minutes and assesses orientation, immediate memory, concentration and delayed recall. Other sideline tools discussed include the Post-Concussion Symptom Scale and the Graded Symptom Checklist which also may be administered in a short time interval and identify concussion.
Two important grade B recommendations are that team personnel should immediately remove any athlete from play with a suspected concussion and that the athlete not be allowed to return until evaluated by the LHCP. It is also recommended that no player should return to play until a LHCP has deemed the concussion to be resolved after being off all medications. A graded process for return of play is recommended with consideration given for formal neurocognitive testing. This makes it essential that patients with a concussion who are discharged from the ED follow up with a LHCP in the outpatient setting.
Per this guideline, in the diagnosis of a concussion, head CT scan is not indicated unless other more serious complications are possible. Factors they deemed as risks in their recommendation include loss of consciousness, post-traumatic amnesia, persistence of a GCS<15, focal neurologic deficit, clinical skull fracture, or clinical deterioration. The guideline does not go into any more detail with regards to imaging.
As an athlete gets older and enters more competitive sports, there is a high level of pressure to get back to play. With continued awareness programs and through this guideline, physicians, parents, coaches, and athletes may be able to reduce risk of recurrent concussions and help prevent long-term neurobehavioral impairment.
Summary of evidence-based guideline update: Evaluation and management of concussion in sports. Neurology. June 11, 2013;80(24):2250-2257.
Dr. Gemme is a resident in emergency medicine at Alpert Medical School of Brown University, and is the 2013-2014 EMRA Representative to the ACEP Clinical Policies Committee.