Subacute to chronic mild traumatic brain injury

Author(s): Mott TF, McConnon ML, Rieger BP

Abstract

Although a universally accepted definition is lacking, mild traumatic brain injury and concussion are classified by transient loss of consciousness, amnesia, altered mental status, a Glasgow Coma Score of 13 to 15, and focal neurologic deficits following an acute closed head injury. Most patients recover quickly, with a predictable clinical course of recovery within the first one to two weeks following traumatic brain injury. Persistent physical, cognitive, or behavioral postconcussive symptoms may be noted in 5 to 20 percent of persons who have mild traumatic brain injury. Physical symptoms include headaches, dizziness, and nausea, and changes in coordination, balance, appetite, sleep, vision, and hearing. Cognitive and behavioral symptoms include fatigue, anxiety, depression, and irritability, and problems with memory, concentration and decision making. Women, older adults, less educated persons, and those with a previous mental health diagnosis are more likely to have persistent symptoms. The diagnostic workup for subacute to chronic mild traumatic brain injury focuses on the history and physical examination, with continuing observation for the development of red flags such as the progression of physical, cognitive, and behavioral symptoms, seizure, progressive vomiting, and altered mental status. Early patient and family education should include information on diagnosis and prognosis, symptoms, and further injury prevention. Symptom-specific treatment, gradual return to activity, and multidisciplinary coordination of care lead to the best outcomes. Psychiatric and medical comorbidities, psychosocial issues, and legal or compensatory incentives should be explored in patients resistant to treatment.

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