What to expect in the new concussion guidelines


This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Andrew N. Wilner, MD: I’m your host, Dr. Andrew Wilner, reporting virtually from the 2023 American Academy of Neurology meeting in Boston. It’s my pleasure today to speak with Dr. Shae Datta, codirector of the NYU Langone Concussion Center.

She’s also a clinical assistant professor of neurology at NYU School of Medicine. Dr. Datta is chair of the AAN Sports Neurology Section, and she’s leading a panel on concussion at this year’s meeting. She’s going to give us an update. Welcome, Dr. Datta.

Shae Datta, MD: Thank you so much, Andrew. I really love the fact that I’m here speaking to you about all of the new, exciting developments in the field.

Dr. Wilner: Before we get too deep, tell us how you got interested in this topic.

Dr. Datta: I initially thought, when I was in training as a resident, that I wanted to do something like neurocritical care or EEG. It also puzzled me why these seemingly smaller head injuries that didn’t end up in the hospital or ICU were bounced from neurology headache clinic to neuro-ophthalmology headache clinic to neurovestibular headache clinic, and nobody seemed to be able to put together the dots about why they’re having so many different issues — but at the same time, nobody could help them.

At that time, this field was very new. I was on a plane to Paris to a neurocritical care conference as a resident, and I saw the movie Concussion with Will Smith.

It featured one of my current mentors who taught at the fellowship that I graduated from, and it was a fascinating field. I just started looking deeply into it, and I saw that there was a new training fellowship for sports neurology and concussion management, and this is basically why we’re here today.

New concussion consensus guidelines coming

Dr. Wilner: I think this field has really exploded. It used to be that you banged your head, you did a CT scan – remember, I trained about 45 years ago – and if there was nothing on the CT scan, you were done. If you had headaches, you took Tylenol until they went away.

Now, we do MRI, and we realized that it’s really a syndrome. I understand that there are going to be some formal guidelines that have been put together. Is that correct?

Dr. Datta: That’s correct. The 6th International Consensus Conference on Concussion in Sport, in Amsterdam, where I attended and presented a poster, was really a meeting of all the best minds – clinicians and researchers in brain injury – to form a consensus on the newest guidelines that are going to direct our treatment going forward.

Dr. Wilner: I’m going to ask you a trick question because the last time I looked it up I did not get a satisfying answer. What is a concussion?

Dr. Datta: That’s a very good question, and everyone always asks. A concussion is an external force that is emitted upon the head or the neck, or the body, in general, that may cause temporary loss of function. It’s a functional problem.

We don’t see much on CT. We can do MRI. We can do SPECT or we can do these very fancy images, sometimes, of high-velocity head injuries and see small microhemorrhages.

Often, we don’t see anything, but still the patient is loopy. They can’t see straight. They are double-visioned. They have vertigo. Why is that happening? On the cellular level, we have an energy deficit in the sodium-potassium-ATPase pump of the neurons themselves.

Dr. Wilner: Suppose you do see diffuse axonal injury; does that take it out of concussion, or can you have a concussion with visible injury?

Dr. Datta: I think you can have overlap in the symptoms. The diffuse axonal injury would put it into a higher grade of head injury as opposed to a mild traumatic brain injury. Definitely, we would need to work together with our trauma doctors to ensure that patients are not on blood thinners or anything until they heal well enough. Obviously, I would pick them up as an outpatient and follow them until we resolve or rehab them as best as possible.

Concussion assessment tools

Dr. Wilner: There are many sports out there where concussions are fairly frequent, like American football and hockey, for example. Are there any statements in the new guidelines?

Dr. Datta: There are no statements for or against a particular sport because that would really make too much of a bold statement about cause and effect. There is a cause and effect in long-term, repetitive exposure, I would say, in terms of someone being able to play or sustain injury.

Right now, at least at the concussion conference I went to and in the upcoming consensus statement, they will not comment on a specific sport. Obviously, we know that the higher-impact sports are a little more dangerous.

Let’s be honest. At the high school, middle school, or even younger level, some kids are not necessarily the most athletic, right? They play because their friends are playing. If they’re repeatedly getting injured, it’s time for an astute clinician, or a coach, and a whole team to assess them to see if maybe this person is just going to continue to get hurt if they’re not taken out of the game and perhaps they should go to a lower-impact sport.

Dr. Wilner: In schools, often there’s a big size and weight difference. There are 14-year-olds who are 6 fett 2 inches and 200 pounds, and there are 14-year-olds who are 5 feet 2 inches and 110 pounds. Obviously, they’re mismatched on the football field.

You mentioned coaches. Is there anything in the guidelines about training coaches?

Dr. Datta: Specifically, there was nothing in the guidelines about that. There’s a tool for coaches at every level to use, which is called the Sports Concussion Assessment Tool, or SCAT, which is going to be updated to the SCAT6. At the NCAA level, they must receive annual training on concussion management and be given an NCAA concussion handout for coaches.

Obviously, there are more rigorous protocols for national-level coaching. As it stands now, it is not mandatory, but they are given tools to assess someone once they’ve gotten a hit to take them out of the game.


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